Indexes of engagement

I don’t yet have the evaluations in hand from the last workshop, but based on the energy in the room and the output of the young people, I could safely say that the Tribal Rites of Passage activity was a success. Even though some people could not make it back for the second session due to personal and work issues, several things indicated that the participants were in fact engaged by the last session.

I knew we were off to a good start when the first youth showed up and told me that he chose to come to the workshop to do the activity instead of going to an art event (he loves drawing,  painting, and learning about artists) in the very same building hosted by “real artists who have gallery shows.” He had gone to one such event before and really enjoyed it, so it meant a lot to me that he showed up at mine.

The second person who came in was the one of the youths who struggles with reading and writing. I’d been warned that one of his defense mechanisms is saying he’s “bored,” so I knew what to expect in the first session. Last Thursday I greeted him when he walked in and he smiled brightly and asked what we were going to do. I explained that they were all going to design their own tribal rite of passage, but that it would be a “no pressure zone,” meaning each young person could choose how they wanted to present their project (by drawing or writing their ideas out) and to what extent they wanted to lean on their mentors. The mentors are used to reading and writing things out for their partners, since the point of the group is to work on self development, not academic skills. The group facilitator and I discussed beforehand that we would let mentors present for the youth, if that is what they preferred. Again, he smiled at this. There was no trace of the anxiety that plagued him during the last session. There was a significantly visible difference in his demeanor. (I’ll return to this in a later post.)

The other youth who was very quiet during the last session also spoke up more frequently. I promised myself that I would push him a little more last Thursday. Each time I asked a question he would avert his eyes. I would let a couple beats pass, then tell them I notice when people avert their eyes and don’t speak up even if they have something to say. It worked and he contributed a couple of times during the review.

The first adult who walked in was yet another surprise. She works for Mentoring USA, the umbrella organization for the group, so she usually only drops by every few weeks to check in with the group. I was told that she was very excited by the first session that she wanted to participate in the follow up activity. (She  actually ended up designing and presenting her own rite of passage, in addition to working with one of the youths on his.)

One young man arrived late and had to leave early because of other commitments, but I was glad to see him do what he could of the exercise. Since he is one of the older youths in the group (technically, he no longer has a mentor), the facilitator is really eager for him to think deeply about his entrance into adult life.

Lastly, one youth arrived in tears, and had a chat with the group facilitator and her mentor. After talking to them she dried her eyes and got right into the discussion. I don’t know the specifics of everyone’s story, but I do know that this group of young people have all lived through very tough challenges. As an outsider it’s a bit difficult reconciling my impressions of them with the troubles they face in their personal lives, because in many ways they just seem like a really sweet bunch of teenagers.

More on the workshop in later.

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