Youth 4 Change

yThe Cowichan Intercultural Society (CIS), with the generous support of Coast Capital Savings, is thankful for the opportunity to work with Francis Kelsey Secondary School (FKSS) and Mount Prevost Middle School on the Youth 4 Change (Y4C) Project. Y4C was a community-to-school initiative supporting student exploration of the social-emotional climate in which they live. Students were encouraged to reflect on the positive and negative impacts of their environment; and on the social-emotional health of themselves and others. Discovering personal power through action planning was a primary element of Y4C, which allowed students to address concerns and begin making a better tomorrow today!

Y4C was initiated at our two partner schools in January 2011 with a full day workshop called Reality Check. In total, over 235 students and 38 community volunteers participated in the two workshops. Students were introduced to several concepts and ideas about how society has evolved to its current social-emotional state. Reality Check explored the impacts of major contributing historical events on human beings, on society today, and on us as individuals. Students and volunteer facilitators explored solutions for finding a new way forward and contemplated their first steps.

Through this exploration, students were able to assess these impacts in their own lives, and were able to share personal stories of adversity. The results of this day were immediate and very powerful for all involved. One of the many outcomes was captured in the following comment from a participating student: “I learned a lot about people that I didn’t like before, but now that I know what they go through every day, I look at them a lot different[ly]”. Students came to understand the importance of looking deeper than the surface behaviour of others and realized that everyone has a story. Students found it healing to share their stories in a safe and respectful environment and were moved when discovering that many of their peers were having similar experiences.

After the Reality Check workshops, students had a chance to put into action their ‘next steps’ through follow-up action planning. At FKSS, students felt it was important to share Reality Check with a larger population of students within their school. Seven students planned, networked and supported 65 more FKSS students to participate in a Reality Check workshop. These seven students were excellent role models and helped facilitate many of the activities during the day. A number of other action plans were also implemented. Youth leaders formed a support group where students could continue to share and talk about their experiences. Peer counsellors in the senior class plan to restart the compassionate listening group called TADA: Together Against Discrimination Always. Supported by a teacher/counsellor, TADA will resume during the 2011-12 school year. A Random Acts of Kindness project (RAK) was initiated and students were challenged to plan and carry out one RAK a week. The RAK’s were implemented in school, at home and in the community. Students were able to share these compassionate experiences in their weekly reflections.

At Mount Prevost Middle School, additional workshops were provided to the leadership students. The focus was to increase their ability to stand up for others, become active witnesses, and reduce discrimination and bullying at their school and in the community. The students created and implemented action plans which included organizing a Purple Day at the school (to raise awareness about the impact of bullying). They were also trained to facilitate Diversity Stars (DS) – a fun and engaging workshop for elementary students to build awareness about the power of being active witnesses, and how to stand up for others when needed. The leadership students co-facilitated the DS workshops at two local elementary schools and were invited to present the DS workshop to 30 leadership students at Quamichan Middle School. This had a ripple effect as 12 of the Quamichan students were inspired and asked to be trained to facilitate the DS workshop. In turn, they co-facilitated the DS workshop for 185 students at 3 more elementary schools. The leadership students co-wrote and performed a song called If You Look at Yourself in the Mirror.(focused on the impact of racism). The students performed their song during the DS workshops and performed for the entire school population at their end of year assembly.

According to Y4C Coordinator, Linda McDaniels, “One of the most exciting outcomes of the project was the Love is Louder Facebook campaign started by Mt. Prevost students”. Several students from the leadership Y4C group initiated the Love is Louder face book campaign in support of a fellow student who had been bullied for years. This campaign received hundreds of responses from fellow students and sparked an anti-bullying movement within the school. This action clearly demonstrated that the students had integrated all they had learned throughout this project and felt empowered to take it to the next level through personal action!

The Youth 4 Change project was created to raise awareness about the value of diversity and the importance of inclusion. The students who participated have demonstrated their ability to empower themselves to make a difference in their schools, homes and in the community! We would like to thank Francis Kelsey Secondary School, Mount Prevost Middle school, Quamichan Middle School, and the community volunteers for supporting this project. A special thank you goes to Coast Capital for their commitment to community. “Coast Capital Savings is committed to building strong, healthy communities,” explains Wendy Lachance, Director, Community Leadership, Coast Capital Savings. “Cowichan Intercultural Society’s Youth 4 Change program aligns with that commitment by enriching the lives of youth and empowering them to make positive change in their lives and the lives of others. That is something Coast Capital is more than happy to support.”

And most importantly, thank you to the students who participated and showed us that our future is in very good hands! As one student reflected in his feedback, “my heart grew 7 sizes”, a sentiment that was felt by so many of us who participated in the Y4C project.