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Monday, May 08, 2006

Empower Youth to Extend Your Reach

A few years ago as a high school guidance counselor I advised a SPARK Peer Tutoring club. In addition to the service these students provided as tutors, this motivated group also took on other leadership projects.

During one of our monthly meetings to discuss these projects, one student suggested that we try to get a SPARK program going at the middle school. Our high school SPARK students were already tutoring middle school youth and it seemed like there was sufficient need to warrant a separate middle school program.

Although this seemed like a great idea, there were many reasons I did not want to become involved with it. There was not a lot of communication between the staff at the middle school and high school, so I did not have a reliable contact there. And I had no way of personally advising a program at the middle school (logistically or time-wise). I felt that our high school group was already going out of its way to help as tutors at the middle school and I really did not feel like taking on any more than I already had.

But this student was not expecting me to deal with any of those issues. He was posing a suggested project to the group and several members seemed quite interested. And this was a group of students that had demonstrated its ability to reach goals in other projects. So rather than communicate all the roadblocks my mind had created within minutes of the initial suggestion, I just removed myself from the responsibility of project implementation. Instead, I served as advisor for the youth committee, acting as a sounding board and counsel for the group, and empowered them to find the answers to the questions they had. That is really the only thing they needed or wanted from me anyway.

Within months, this small committee of focused SPARK members identified and connected with interested middle school staff, wrote and received a grant to fund the project, facilitated a training for eighth grade tutors and handed over a well-organized peer tutoring program to the new middle school advisor.

And I never lifted a finger.

How often we assume that the ideas generated by youth are just going to add to our plate. As a busy educator, I wonder how many times I shot down a youth suggestion because I just couldn't handle the extra responsibility? And this is a legitimate concern, if we assume that young person expects us to take on the project ourselves. But in this situation, he didn't, and I didn't. There was never any question who was responsible or who received the kudos. From start to finish, the project was owned by a few ambitious young people. Instead of shutting down a complicated endeavor, I chose to limit my involvement and allow youth to take responsibility. My role was to offer empowering support, and in the long run that support helped to make their idea a reality.

Trust empowered youth to extend your reach when they offer.

By the way, the young man that initiated and implemented this middle school SPARK Peer Tutoring program went on to start a lucrative summer house painting business and is putting himself through college. Who knows what we might see from him in the future?

Copyright 2004 Kelly Curtis, This article is available free for reprint. Just include the copyright line as well as the website address, publishing, please send a copy of the reprinted article to Empowering Youth, PO Box 117, Clear Lake, WI 54005 To sign up for periodic Empowering Youth newsletters, please click here.


  • That is both an uplifting and thought provoking entry, not just with regards to youth but with regards to how we conduct our lives day-to-day :) How often do we, perhaps unconsciously, discourage somebody else from following their dream or trying out a new idea because we ourselves wouldn't do it or because we think we somehow might get pulled into their project? Is it possible that something great might have been if not for us? Makes you realize how much responsibility lies with in each and every action in your life ...

    By Blogger Fahim, At 9:28 PM  

  • Excellent points Fahim. Thank you so much for reading - and posting your thoughts.

    By Blogger Pass The Torch, At 12:15 AM  

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