Thursday, January 15, 2009

Teens Changing School Culture - YLF and Aspire

Eleanor Wolfe had a life-changing experience at Tennessee's Youth Leadership Forum (YLF), a program of the Council on Developmental Disabilities. The programs increased her self-confidence, helped her better articulate her ideas on advocacy and provided a new set of networking connections. She left the four-day camp determined and inspired to address the social climate at her high school.

17-year-old Eleanor, who has autism, had a dream to start a new Aspire program at Farragut High School in Knox County. Aspire is a Tennessee Department of Education service-learning program for high schools addressing safe schools issues such as drugs, alcohol and violence. Eleanor proposed to use the Aspire model to address an altogether different issue: the social isolation she and other students with disabilities experience.

Eleanor’s first set of challenges was to recruit at least 15 club members and two adult sponsors, gaining the approval of Student Government and the principal, and securing financial support to send all of the new members to the required Aspire leadership training.

Instead of just recruiting students with disabilities, she decided to approach the Leadership Initiative class to bridge the divide and find students who don't have disabilities and have no experience with ability diversity. They were excited to get involved.

Time will tell what this incredible young person and her team will do in the future!

Eleanor's story is a powerful example of building assets - both in her own life and also in the lives of her peers. Here are some of the assets observed throughout her story: Caring school climate * Youth as resources * Service to others * Safety * School boundaries * Positive peer influence *School engagement * Bonding to school * Caring * Equality and social justice * Planning and decision making * Cultural competence * Personal power *

(This story is edited from “Small Beginnings, High Expectations” an article by Sylvia and Eleanor Wolfe. Story submitted by Melia Arnold at Volunteer Tennessee.)