“We are the Next Generation.”

Grooming Tomorrow’ Leaders…

VOICES is a research-informed curriculum developed by the the Posse Foundation in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Office of Sexual Health & Youth Development to prevent risk-taking behavior and provide strengths-based support across the state.  Family Services of the Merrimack Valley was selected to test the VOICES program and help its shaping through our user experiences.  Through the VOICES three -dimensional curriculum, middle and high school students discuss and practice critical thinking around their identities, resources, power, and their ability to make change as leaders; as well as lessons learned from building an evidence base to support youth development as an effective framework for improving a broad spectrum of adolescent development and health outcomes.  Over the recent February school vacation, a host of local students were on task at our Family Services offices putting the program to the test…

“We are the next generation,” says middle school student Jeremiah during the group’s recent meeting.  “Here, we’re learning about different communities.  The purpose is to understand these diverse groups and how we can use our voices to better understand one another and improve things.”  On the day’s agenda was the topic of financial resources and how they can make or break a community.  The eight or so students gathered board room style and have been splintered into teams.  Each team is randomly assigned a budget (labeled “low”, “middle” and “high”) and is then tasked with puzzling through real life scenarios with their limited, or in some cases unlimited, resources.  They confer and they compromise.  They plan and they plot.  And they experience firsthand the luxury of surplus and the frustration of shortfall.  After doing so, they then present to the group their budgets and the communities they were able to craft as a result of the cards dealt.  As one observes their thoughtful approaches, it’s not much of a stretch to fast forward (a decade or so) and envision such a group tackling their generation’s most pressing issues.

The VOICES programming is designed to be mobile, and Family Services currently offers the curriculum on-site in the Lawrence Public Schools.   Of the curriculum, Family Service’s Youth Development Program Facilitator Thalia Estevez says, “Of all the youth programming we offer, this is my favorite to administer.  It’s emphasis is civic engagement, and it truly gives these kids a voice. Here, we might just catch that one student who is beginning to act or speak out and start to engage with him or her.  I find we always have a very articulate group.”

And the take-away(s) after completing their Wednesday morning budget assignments?  “Most of the people who have more money have more power. You’ve got to take what you’ve got and do the most that you can with it,” counsels the first team to present.  “Everybody deserves a good education, good housing, good markets, good policy and good medical coverage,” shares eighth grader Katerin (pictured above).  Her group had been allocated the smallest amount of funding.  She fused her morning findings into her own life experience adding… “Even though our community may not have much money and be lower class, we stick together.  And at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.”

Every young person, regardless of their circumstances or history, has tremendous potential to achieve great things. Family Services’ Youth Development Programs help young people achieve their full potential by helping them harness their inherent strengths and abilities.  To learn more about VOICES and our Youth Development programming, please visit…

 

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