~by Cherilyn Walker
Empathy…a foreign word to most of the students in my Male Academy class. Every day is focused around getting to and from school safely without the gang members across the street verbally and physically assaulting them. “Thick skinned.” “Indifferent.” “Cold.” These were words used to describe the young men that slumped in the chairs not really ready to hear another lecture about the importance of stepping up or stepping out.
The first day of The Empower Youth Program was good. The students seemed to respond positively to [the young people featured in the program’s media] and really engaged in learning the difference between apathy (where most of them “lived”), sympathy, and empathy. The program was lining up with some community projects we had going on at the time, so it provided a fantastic vocabulary for the students to use when engaging with city leaders about the concerns they had.
The negative pulls lesson is, hands down, one of the best lessons I’ve ever taught. The boys were so engaged, and, more importantly, actively participating in recognizing and calling out the negative pulls in their lives. Students were able to have important conversations, seek help, and identify people they needed to distance themselves from. They also were able to recognize those people and situations in their lives that are moving them to positivity and opportunity.
We used the information from the EYP program to partner with Leadership Long Beach c/o 2016 and the Home Away From Home even, a community event that focused on education and safety for our school and community. Students were able to share with their peers how to effectively navigate negative and positive situations in their lives. Using the EYP program allowed a dialogue to develop between students, families, and community leaders. It was easy to implement and relevant.
The students seemed to connect with both [of the young people featured in the media]. Another amazing thing about the program is that the lessons are aligned with CCSS [Common Core State Standards]. This program allowed some hard-hearted students to open up and really do some work to learn how to be the change they want to see in their lives and in the community. It was effective, engaging, and relevant. It is my goal to make sure every student in our school experiences its important message. I recommend it highly.
Cherilyn Walker is the Male Academy Coordinator at Washington Middle School in Long Beach, California.
If you would like to learn more about bringing The Empower Youth Program to your school or youth-serving organization, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.