May 13, 2011

Youthlinks teaches responsibility and teamwork to middle school students

Filed under: Teens — Sue Dirosario @ 8:06 pm

For four years, Youthlinks has been teaching local middle schools classes
using a curriculum called Lions Quest, a program based on the promotion the
positive potential of all youth, character development, personal responsibility,
and prevention.  This year, Youthlinks Program Manager Caitlin Schick has been
utilizing Lions Quest with fifth graders in Joanna Duke’s health classes at
Rockland District Middle School.  Together, the classes have been looking at
issues like productive teamwork, demonstrating positive listening skills, and
promoting a safe classroom environment.


For most young students, the experience of going to school presents many more
weighty challenges than just tests and homework.  Students have to integrate a
litany of social and emotional information on a daily basis while concurrently
trying to focus on what is being offered in the classroom. Navigating social
expectations which dictate behavior and conformity, learning on how to
communicate with teachers and follow school rules, dealing with bullying or peer
pressure, and trying to process hardships or stress happening at home all take
considerable attention away from academics.  However, just like mathematics or
literacy, core social and emotional skills like positive decision  making,
setting goals, processing stress, and working cooperatively with others hold
lifelong value.  These latter skills help students develop ways to cope with the
everyday intensity of being an adolescent, allowing them a little more mental
energy to tackle their studies.


Schick puts emphasis on these life lessons by making them fun and engaging.
Classes begin with a group game requiring teamwork to get students ready to
participate in class lessons. Working together in a fun way allows students to
drop their guard a little with one another and be receptive to listening and
cooperation.  Lions Quest classes differ from most academic classes because as
Schick tells students “You are already the expert in your life.  I am not here
to teach you about you. Instead, I will be asking for you to think about the
things you experience, and we will work together on developing skills that help
us make good choices around the challenges we face every day.”  There are no
wrong answers, and everyone is asked to participate in discussions using first
person experiences and thoughts.  Because so much of Lions Quest classes are
routed in personal sharing, Schick emphasizes the importance of creating a safe
classroom together as a platform for this different type of group learning.  As
one student summarized, “[In Lions Quest] we learned how to work with each other
and not argue, and the importance of teamwork and having fun together.”


The ultimate goal of Lions Quest and Youthlinks alike is to create a
community that supports the development of capable, and caring young people with
strong character.  Starting in the classroom by strengthening social skills and
emotional resiliency not only helps students thrive in their personal lives but
their academic lives as well.  If students can learn to value themselves, feel
respected by peers, and see adults as allies, the hope is that this combination
carries beyond Lions Quest and into the rest of their lives.


Youthlinks is a program of Broadreach Family & Community Services located
in Rockland that provides community service, leadership and enrichment
opportunities to youth ages 11-17 in mid-coast Maine. These programs help youth
learn skills, build self-esteem, cultivate social responsibility, develop
leadership abilities and connect to their peers, to adult mentors, and to their
communities. Youthlinks is funded by grants and the generous donations of
individuals and businesses. All programs are free for participating youth.