In January, February and March of 2015, Tom and I set off to work with a group of youth at the New Brunswick Youth Centre (NBYC). We were piloting our RoadMap Program, which is focused on career development and financial literacy education for youth in custody.
We could never have been prepared for the amazing learnings that these 7 youth would offer us. These youth were among some of the most engaged, creative (and hilarious) youth that we have ever worked with. They knew that we were piloting The RoadMap Program and that their feedback was important to us, but as the program ended, Tom and I realized that we wanted to do more with these youth- because they had so much more to tell us, and they had so much more that we needed to hear.
Education definitely emerged as a key issue for these youth. But our discussions highlighted just how complex school can be for them. They told us that “kids today need to understand how important school is. They need to understand why they need to go to school. But it wasn’t until we started going to school in the Youth Centre that we realized how much we need to go back to school, to complete our education.”
The many challenges that youth in custody can face accessing education in both mainstream and alternative sites are significant, but these youth told us what they think are the biggest challenges for them are at school. They explained that “the thing is- school is a stressful place. Most people don’t understand youth in our position. We want to learn, but we have trouble with our anger, anxiety and stress. Most schools don’t know how to deal with it.”
In fact, controlling one’s anger, anxiety and stress were common wellness themes in the RoadMap Program- things they worried about, both in terms of getting an education, and getting, and keeping a job.
These youth told us however, that “being in school in the Youth Centre has given us new ways to deal with our problems. We have learned to deal with stress in new ways since being here.”
One of the ways that these youth manage their anger, anxiety and stress is working out. They told us that working out really helped them to focus on and process their feelings of anxiety, stress and anger, and also to build their confidence.
As the RoadMap Program came to an end, these youth told Tom and I that they wanted to go back to school. They told us that “my family used to push going to school and if you didn’t, you would get into trouble and end up in jail. I never listened to them, just cared about making money and now I’ve ended up in the Youth Centre. But now I’ve realized they were right and just wanted what was best for me, and now I know that I have to go to school once I get out.” They also said that, “I just screwed around in school and never went, but now I know the importance of an education and I am going to try hard once I am out to get back into school.”
But just as these youth told us that they wanted to work hard and get a high school diploma, they taught us that educators, and facilitators like Tom and I, need to work hard to really include these youth in our classrooms and groups. These youth taught us that educators and facilitators should find strategies to:
- Help these youth enjoy learning new things! Make your activities fun- games work really well!
- Break down large lessons into smaller, more manageable sections.
- Give youth as much control and responsibility as you can; create opportunities for them to take leadership roles in your lessons.
- Write down all directions, guidelines and rules so that youth can follow along, and help stay on track.
- Engage youth to work with educators and facilitators to create a classroom environment that reflects their needs.
- Ask them to reflect on their expectations, discuss and create classroom guidelines, and definitely to isolate any consequences that need to be in place if these guidelines are not respected.
- Be creative- find new activities that they have not done before! (Like making icecream out of snow!)
Though our time with these amazing youth at the NBYC has come to an end, we hope to be able to continue working with these youth upon their release- supporting them to access education and career supports in their communities. But for now, we are excited to take all they taught us to Portage Atlantic, where we will be delivering the RoadMap Program to two other groups of youth. Stay tuned for our next update!
*All photos shown above were taken by students in the Roadmap group
– Robyn Lippett, Project Coordinator | The Roadmap Project