Tuesday, September 29, 2015

On "Invisibility"

Growing up in an upper middle class family in an almost entirely white town, I never had a feeling of “invisibility” like Hobson describes.  The story she tells about what her mother said to her after the birthday party she attended, at which she was the only black child invited, is something that I never experienced.  There was no diversity in my town, so at every birthday party I attended, I looked just like everybody else.  

In high school, I was extremely introverted.  I got to school early so I could get inside and to my locker before everyone arrived.  I spent the morning before first period in one of two teachers’ classrooms sitting at a chair pulled up to their desk doing work so I didn’t have to socialize with anyone and could avoid homeroom.  I went to class, refused to participate in group work, and then proceeded directly to my next class, communicating with no one in the hallways.  When lunch block came around, I would sit in one of my teacher’s classrooms instead of going to the cafeteria.  I had this option because he was just like me.  He refused to eat his lunch in the teachers’ room.  So we would both sit there doing our own work and eating our lunch in silence.  That was my time to recharge.  You see, as an introvert, social situations are very stressful and draining for me.  I needed this time to be alone.  As a result of my habits at school, I essentially isolated myself from all of my peers.  I was pretty much invisible to everyone I went to school with.  But that was ok.  That was my goal.  I liked the isolation, the invisibility.  Because of the way my school days went, by the time I got to the dance studio I was usually ready for it.  Sure, there were some days when I still wanted to be alone.  But my dance teachers (who were and still are some of my best friends) respected when I needed that space.

Looking back, I realize how lucky I was growing up.  I CHOSE to be invisible.  It was not something brought upon me because of my race, culture, sexual orientation, religion, etc.  I enjoyed the isolation and invisibility I created for myself, but I can’t fully imagine what that would be like for someone who did not choose it.  I imagine that someone experiencing “invisibility” due to things such as race, culture, etc. would feel sad.  Lonely.  Less than.  There were times that I felt like I was missing out on things by isolating myself, but the truth is, I could have changed that if I had wanted to.  I could have spent my days forcing myself to try to be more extroverted or socialize more, and then gone home to recharge.  But what about youth who are invisible because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation?  Do they spend their days trying to seem “less black” or “less gay” or “less Catholic”?  I believe that this would be so hard for them.  

This is where I see organizations like YIA coming into play.  For students that feel invisible during the school day, these are safe places where they can come to be themselves freely and recharge. Places like this, where students are allowed to "share their stories, practice leadership and create change in their communities", hopefully help give these students the power to feel like they do not need to feel invisible all the time. If nothing else, they will be given the confidence that there is at least one safe place where they are truly visible and safe to be their true selves.

The book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, is a great read for anyone who might have stereotypes about introverts. Also, here is a TED Talk given by Susan Cain herself.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ideology Inventory

According to the Ideology Horoscope, my responses indicated that I identified most with the “Critical Youth Development” ideology (with a score of 15).  I do agree with some aspects of this belief system.  The Key Question asked by Critical Youth Development is “How can adults and youth work together to negotiate, and make meaning of their worlds? How can they together make the world a better place for all players?”  I believe that this is important.  Although this is not very deep and does not necessarily “make meaning” of the world, I can relate this back to the ballet class I taught tonight.  I was subbing for a ballet class filled with high school girls, ages 15-18.  None of them wanted to be there, as they had been at dance since 3pm and the class ran from 8pm-9:30pm.  They were practically begging me to let them do nothing for the whole class, which I obviously could not allow.  However, I knew that if I put on classical ballet music and ran a traditional ballet class, they would not pay attention or put in any effort.  In an effort to “negotiate” with them, we did the entire barre portion of class to current pop music.  We plĂ­ed to Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae), tendĂșed to Uma Thurman, and did our grand battements to Uptown Funk.  Instead of being miserable the whole time, they were smiling and having fun, while still getting their ballet technique in for the day.  For your viewing pleasure, here is a couple clips of our class: 

In the other categories, I felt as though I could relate more to the “Positive Youth Development” ideology.  I have always felt that having a positive interaction with children is more effective and try to avoid negative interaction at all costs.  The orientation of this ideology is just that--”A focus on fostering strengths and positive growth (also helps prevent negative outcomes)..”  I have been nannying for the same little boy since just before he turned one.  He will be three this January.  In my time with him I have had the opportunity to observe many other parents/caregivers interacting with kids his age and older.  A common trend I noticed was how much the words “No” and “Don’t do/touch that” and “Stop” and “Hurry up”  were used.  It really bothered me because I feel that especially at such a young age, there is no need for such negative language.  These children are learning as they experience the world for the first time.  If they are doing something that you would prefer they not do, they do not need to be reprimanded, they need to be redirected.  Instead of saying these negative phrases, we as caregivers (or youth workers) can redirect them to a more appropriate activity or action.  As to the “Hurry up” phenomenon, I think we can all agree that kids can often be S-L-O-O-O-W.  But keep in mind, everything is still new to them.  When we are at the zoo, I let the little guy look at whatever he wants for however long he wants.  If that means we sit in the elephant habitat for 45 minutes (yes, a two year old had that long of an attention span for something), so be it.  Clearly he is fascinated by the elephants, and I am in no place to stifle that fascination.  This article from the Huffington Post speaks beautifully to this concept: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rachel-macy-stafford/the-day-i-stopped-saying-hurry-up_b_3624798.html  If you work with children (which we all do as youth workers), please take the time to read it and take it in.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Youth in Action

I really enjoyed the article “In a World Where Youth Hold Power” by Adeola A. Oredola with members of Youth in Action.  I learned a lot about Youth in Action, described as an “organization that’s all about young people – their capacity to lead, their natural ability to innovate, and their desire for positive change” (47).  I thought that the article did a great job describing the philosophy of the organization and providing an honest look at the organization by providing thoughts from different people involved.
While reading the article, I kept thinking back to my own high school experience.  One sentence that really resonated with me was “Teachers and administrators tend to demand respect but feel like treating students with the same respect is pointless. It’s hard to get to acceptance and encouragement when respect isn’t even there” (50).  In eighth grade, I helped start a club called BeSmart at our high school.  As a freshman, I was elected as the secretary.  I was the president of the club my sophomore, junior, and senior years.  During my sophomore year, there was a conference that we wanted to attend as a club for leadership development.  I filled out all of the appropriate paperwork and brought it to the office where it was supposed to go for approval.  I never heard back from anyone.  I went to the principal’s office to ask him about it, and he still would not give me an answer.  I got to school early every day for a week and waited in his office for him.  Finally, when he realized I was not going to give up, he approved the trip.  I felt as though he was just waiting and hoping that I would forget about it.  I was disappointed in this response because I felt as though our principal should have been more supportive and encouraging of a group of young people trying to develop their leadership skills.  
I also thought back to my high school career when I read that “The space cultivated by the youth leadership development organization Youth In Action puts young people, traditionally marginalized by adult decision-makers, at the center of change in the community” (47).  There was very little room for student involvement at a level higher than Student Council or Government (which still didn’t have much of an impact on the school).  During my junior year, I heard through our advisor that there was a group of faculty (the principal, vice principal, nurse, guidance counselor, health teacher, etc.) who met on a monthly basis to discuss health-related matters in the school and district.  There was supposed to be a student representative on the committee; however, when the last student graduated, they made no effort to find another student to fill the spot.  After many meetings and emails with the vice principal, I was allowed to attend the meetings.  Little effort was made, however, to actually make sure I was a part of it.  Instead of receiving emails about meetings and time changes, I had to check in often to make sure I was in attendance.  Luckily, the vice principal seemed happy to have me there once the meetings actually took place, and I felt that my voice had some impact on the direction of the meetings and the policies discussed at the meetings.  My high school definitely could have taken some pointers from YIA because there was definitely more room for student involvement.
Check out the Youth In Action website...lots more information about what they do! 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What Is A Youth Worker?

  1. Youth workers are educators. Typically when we think of educators, we think of teachers in a classroom setting.  Increasingly, teachers have been accused of “teaching to the test” and nothing more.  Unfortunately, I do think that this is the case, although not at the fault of the teachers.  They are required to teach certain things to meet the standards and Common Core, and in the end they don’t have time to go much further than this.  As youth workers, we have the opportunity and responsibility to educate youth in nontraditional ways and to meet the needs of youth that are not being met in the classroom.  In my job as a nanny, I consider myself to be a youth worker.  One of the biggest things that I was able to teach the children I nannied for this summer that they were not getting from school (or their parents) was nutrition.  This is something that is very important to me, so I was happy to share my knowledge; and they were equally as happy to learn.  I started teaching them this by simply eating as I normally do.  They started asking questions about the choices I made, and I explained the nutritional reason for each one.  From then on, each time I made them something to eat or they reached for a snack, they would ask me “Is this healthy?”.  By the end of the summer, I noticed them starting to make healthier choices and complaining less when I provided them with a healthy meal or alternative to what they were used to.  
  2. Youth work is a social practice.  As youth workers, it is our responsibility to help youth grow their social skills.  We can do this by fostering (appropriate) relationships with the youth we work with, as well as helping them forge healthy relationships with their peers.  Youth may come to us for advice in relationships with family, friends, teachers, etc.  We have the privilege of getting to advise them in their growth as individuals by helping them navigate sticky social situations.  Again, as a babysitter and nanny I consider myself to be a youth worker in that the kids I watch trust me.  They share more with me than they do with their parents, which I honor and try to help them however I can.  I was talking one night to an eleven year old I was babysitting after her mom had come home and she shared with me some troubles she was facing in communicating with her mom.  She didn’t want to talk to her mom about something because she was scared and confided certain things to me with the assurance that I wouldn’t tell her mom.  After listening to her, I felt as though it was something that she needed to share with her mom in order to solve.  I kept my promise to not tell her mom but recommended she tell her when she felt comfortable.  She asked me if I would stay there with her while she had the conversation with her mom.  I obliged and helped her get through a difficult conversation by offering moral support.  In the end, the conversation went better than I could have imagined and strengthened their mother-daughter relationship.  
  3. Youth workers are advocates.  As youth workers, we must stick up for youth who cannot stick up for themselves or are considered “less than” in society.  This can be anything from underprivileged youth, to minority youth, to youth in foster care.  I am currently working with a Rhode Island based group called The Challenge T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More) that works with at-risk youth to set and work towards their goals.  We help youth who would normally get pushed aside and not given opportunities to be all that they can be.  I recently travelled to Washington, D.C. for training as an National Childhood Awareness Month Ambassador Training sponsored by Youth Service America and Festival of Children where I was given the opportunity to spread our idea and message and advocate for youth.
  4. Youth work is a welfare practice.  Our responsibility as youth workers is to support the welfare, or wellbeing, of youth.  By fostering healthy relationships with youth, we can support their wellbeing and keep them safe.
  5. Youth work is in a variety of settings.  Pretty much anywhere there are youth, there is youth work taking place.  From classrooms, to after school programs, to summer camps, youth work is constantly in action.  I teach dance to kids of all ages; however, at the studio I notice myself not only as a dance teacher, but also as a youth worker.  Our older girls at the studio (mainly ages 12 and up) spend Monday through Thursday afternoons at the studio from 3pm-9:30pm.  While they are there, I get a chance to observe their relationships with each other, but also the opportunity to have relationships with them.  They ask me for help with their homework, help with relationships, etc.  The dance studio is their home away from home and it is our responsibility to make sure that this is always a safe and healthy environment.
  6. Youth work strengthens youth voices and influence.  Youth are often ignored by adults because to adults, they are just kids so their thoughts and opinions don’t matter.  As youth workers, we must help youth not get discouraged by this and encourage their voice.  As a YSA NCAM advisor, I am getting to express my voice as a “youth” (which I was considered because I am under 22).  The whole program is based on youth having a voice and creating great things.  This was a wonderful thing for me to experience from the perspective of someone who considers herself a youth worker, and I plan on implementing what I learned in my own work as a youth worker.
  7. Youth work works with youth holistically.  To deal with something holistically means to deal with every part of it.  As youth workers, we can’t deal just with kids on their school work, or their physical or mental health, or their relationships.  We must deal with all of these things at once, targeting them as a whole person instead of just their parts or problems.

I'm not sure how much this relates to this post, but this is one of my favorite TED Talks of all time because this young boy inspires me; and I think more kids should get to experience schooling as he does. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY

I also Googled "youth workers ted talks" and found this link to "Best TED Talks for Youth Workers". I'm putting the link in here so I can go back to watch them all when I get a chance.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY

Monday, September 7, 2015

Who Am I?

When I am not in class, I nanny and teach dance.  I love Batman and the beach.  I also love spending time with my friends.