While all youth can and do benefit from youth programs, they are disproportionately valuable to the welfare of low-income or marginalized youth.Those who have fewer resources -- financial, cultural, and social -- benefit disproportionately more from programs than youth who have plenty. Ironically, there is a severe shortage of youth programs designed for at-risk youth.
This video of Willmar youth testing the hovercraft they built together showcases their enthusiasm for learning.
This is an urgent issue that the Minnesota Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR) team has gone a along way to addressing. The Minnesota CYFAR Sustainable Communities Project is entering its fifth year of operation. Since its launch, we have used the organic middle school model designed specifically for youth and their families at risk. It is not a highly structured program model in the sense that we have a prescribed curriculum, content or activities. Rather, the content emerges from the interests and talents of the youth, family and their community -- keeping program staff on their toes as they continually design a learning environment that sparks those interests and draws out those talents.
Our evaluation findings confirm that the organic nature of the model is essential to successful programming. Each site keeps youth's interests at the center of learning, and so each has a different focus. At the Willmar site, youth love the opportunity "express their nerdiness" in science. In Winona, they escape "living in a text book" and "actually touch stuff." In St. Paul, young people relish the rare urban opportunity to connect with nature in the context of their Ojibwe and Lakota cultures. Because their interests are at the core of programming, across all sites, young people are having fun while learning and motivated to explore their educational interests. This is particularly important for young people whose knowledge or ways of knowing are often marginalized in other settings.
In your experience, what are indispensable elements of youth programs for young people who are at risk for not meeting their basic needs? What can we do as professionals in the field of youth development to advance the development for this type of programming?
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