Cultural Change Led By Students
Young people spend a lot of time in school. By fostering an environment of social and racial equity in school communities, we can achieve far-reaching impacts for young people outside the classroom, extending into their neighborhood, town, or city. This area of our programming is united through a shared focus on addressing inequity in outcomes for students of color, poor and working-class students, LGBTQ students, and indigenous students. We approach equity with the understanding that by improving the environments and systems young people have daily contact with, we see positive change and better outcomes for students.
Amplifying Youth Organizers & Supporting Racial Affinity Spaces
Affinity spaces serve to affirm identities and foster belonging for members of marginalized communities including Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Participation in a racial affinity space can support individual and community wellness. At the middle and high school levels in Maine, students began organizing affinity spaces and other opportunities for their peers years ago. Today, youth are continuing to form Black Student Unions and other affinity spaces at additional high schools as well as in middle schools. MYAN strives to amplify these youth organizers’ work through intentional partnerships and financial support including sponsoring an annual Black Youth Leadership Retreat each August and an inaugural Black Student Caucus in spring of 2021. Read more about the Caucus and connect with us to organize future events!
Equity Through a Restorative Lens
Restorative practices are rooted in First Nation and indigenous community traditions and philosophies. Restorative models are increasingly being explored by criminal justice and education institutions as an alternative to existing punitive systems. These models are being used to create effective and appropriate responses to harmful behavior in school communities. A formal model is one way that schools can incorporate restorative principles.
MYAN programming complements formal restorative models by helping young people cultivate the foundational skills of restorative practices, better preparing students to participate in – and lead! – equity-focused cultural shifts in their schools.
MYAN uses restorative principles and practices in our partnerships with youth and adults; this approach strengthens our individual relationships, fosters inclusive communities, and exemplifies holistic prevention at its best.
Building Inclusive Student Communities
Restorative principles can help us build more inclusive communities. MYAN provides support for community building through an introductory training program for middle and high school students. Building Inclusive Student Communities is a two-step program—first young people receive introductory training on the foundations of restorative practices and then actively apply those skills through a youth-led project that benefits their school community. In the process, students strengthen communication skills, deepen their ties to the community and boost their awareness of social challenges experienced by fellow students.
Strengthening Authentic Youth-Adult Partnerships
Authentic partnerships allow for more sustainable and meaningful impacts. When youth and adults establish the requisite trust for true partnership with one another, all members of a community benefit. MYAN works with students and adult advisors to develop adaptive skills through small-scale impact projects designed by groups to immediately benefit their communities.
Through a cohort model, each group of youth and adults participate in interactive learning sessions designed to strengthen restorative skillsets such as building community, effective communication, and creating collective accountability cultures. As each group begins identifying and implementing impact projects, they also connect with others participating in the cohort. Additional professional development opportunities are available for adult advisors interested in increasing their own capacity to lead similar work.
Youth participate in a seven-part training series (around four and a half hours total) that explicitly targets commercial tobacco and vaping as an entryway into restorative practices and critical thinking. After completing their training, the group is supported in demonstrating their new skills with a project to promote restorative values and inclusive community building in their school. Our trainings are facilitated by MYAN’s staff or our network partners, who then provide guidance and support to students and their advisors during the project phase.
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Micro-Funding for Racial Affinity Groups
Black Student Unions and other racial affinity groups continue to express the need for financial support, training, and other resources for their student members and adult advisors. In response, MYAN has offered micro-funding opportunities to middle and high school groups. Applicants will also be invited to an annual racial affinity group congress.
Stay tuned for more information about MYAN making available up to $3,500 for prospective student leaders, racial affinity groups, and/or their adult advisors in increments of no more than $500. Eligible applications will outline social or educational event programming, travel for social or educational opportunities, and other costs directly tied to the groups’ missions.
This micro-funding initiative will better position middle and high school racial affinity groups to reach their goals. Our further hope is that these funds will allow student leaders to establish their organizational presence and leverage additional connections and funding – such as school extracurricular budgets.