Thursday, December 8, 2016

Promising Practice Event

On November 5th, 2016 I attended the 19th Annual Promising Practice Conference, which had the theme “Resilience Across theBoard: A Strength-Based Approach to Foster Resiliency in All Communities”. The conference began with an opening speech by keynote speaker Dr. Robert Brooks and comprised various diverse workshops, all related to the main conference theme, which attendees could choose from. 

Dr. Robert Brooks began his speech by offering a detailed description of specific characteristics that he believes are important predictors of resiliency. He argued that individuals who develop positive social connections, maintain an optimistic mindset, and have a strong sense of self-efficacy are more likely to be resilient. After describing what makes a person resilient, Dr. Brooks proceeded to explain why it is important for teachers and other youth work professionals to encourage the development of these specific characteristics as it helps youths successfully cope with issues in their lives. Dr. Brooks defined those who cultivate positivism, connectivity, and the development of self-efficacy into their work with youths as “charismatic adults” who positively influence youths’ lives and encourage resiliency. These charismatic adults model the basic principles of determination and strength by forming lasting and meaningful relationships with the youths. They also encourage the formation of safe and open communities by being empathetic and optimistic, and by offering youths opportunities to develop a strong sense of self efficacy, and feel they are making a difference. In other words, Dr. Brooks’ definition of a “charismatic adult” echoes our description of a Youth Worker: an individual dedicated to empowering youths by offering them opportunities to lead and by creating environments in which their strengths are highlighted. The youth worker, like the charismatic adult, leads with positivism and enthusiasm and creates social connections. The only difference is that the youth worker also uses purposeful play as an educational tool.

After Dr. Robert completed his speech, the workshops began and attendees were invited to attend their workshop of choice. The first workshop that I attended was titled “Promoting Resiliency in Kindergarten: How Mindfulness and PBIS [Positive Behavior Interventions and Support] can work together.” As indicated by the title, this discussed the inclusion of mindfulness practices in schools, especially at early elementary level. The presentation was directed by a Henry Barnard teacher and two representatives of the school’s psychology department. During the presentation, each offered their opinions and experiences regarding the inclusion of mindfulness ideals in the classroom. The workshop began with a detailed definition of mindfulness, its practices and techniques, and examples of its proven positive effects on children’s behavior. The introductory segment also included a description of the PBIS framework, which comprises a series of interventions to help children successfully develop behavioral and emotional skills. After the presenters introduced and defined mindfulness and PBIS, they explained how to successfully combine these two practices to help children become more resilient and in contact with their emotions. The goal of teaching mindfulness in conjunction with PBIS is for children to be more aware of their actions and understand the benefits of certain behaviors, rather than absent mindedly doing something because it is what is expected of them. Mindfulness practices also help diminish the occurrence of certain negative behaviors such as aggression and disruption as it helps children find coping mechanisms that help them avoid said actions. During the presentation, we also practiced some mindfulness methods, such as breathing exercises and meditation techniques similar to the methods taught to Henry Barnard students. The themes described in this presentation resemble the ideas discussed during our youth development mindfulness class, but the presenters also explained how mindfulness can be combined with other behavioral and emotional approaches such as PBIS.

Participants were directed to
play different group games including Jenga
The last workshop that I attended was called “Building Resiliency Through Play” and focused on purposeful play to develop different resiliency skills. During the workshop, participants were directed to play different group games and icebreakers, and then discuss the lessons and ideals promoted through the activities. For example, one game required partners to hold three letter blocks between their index fingers, creating a small bridge between them. The participants were not allowed to use their other hand or their free fingers to support the structure to prevent the bridge from collapsing. After creating the bridge, the participants were asked to move around the room while holding their bridges. This difficult task was made more complicated as attendees were also given the option to break other people’s bridges with their free hand. If you wanted to protect your bridge you could use your free hand to try to block any attacks—without touching the structure of course. This meant that as a participant, you had to make a choice to break or protect. Despite the competitive nature of this activity, the room was filled with laughter and enthusiasm as people broke bridges, protected their own, and reconstructed their collapsed bridges to keep participating in the game. After a couple of rounds, the group reunited to discuss the game. During the debrief we talked about what resiliency ideals and skills were exemplified through game. For example, all participants kept reconstructing their bridges every time the blocks were knocked out; this scenario illustrated the principle of perseverance and the importance of resiliency. Also, having a partner available to help showed how supportive relationships can foster resiliency.

I enjoyed this year’s Promising Practice Conference and the workshops that I attended; they inspired me to introduce more mindfulness techniques to my own life, and to play more. As a future youth development professional, I will apply many of the concepts that I learned, such as meditation techniques and resiliency building activities. I will especially remember that being a youth worker means being a charismatic adult, one that will instill positivism and foster unity in the safe and open environments they create.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What is Youth Developmen

Founded in the principles of purposeful play, leading with youth, and the development and encouragement of emotional, personal, and interpersonal skills, the Youth Development program prepares professional youth workers to enter careers in after-school programs, juvenile justice centers, governmental institutions, and recreation centers, among others. The program is currently being offered at Rhode Island College, where students complete courses in education, social work, and nonprofit studies, in addition to completing courses related to the concentration or minor of choice. During their senior year, students get to practice the skills and knowledge learned in the classroom by interning for a youth organization or youth service site and by developing educational and purposeful programs for said organizations. The main focus of this major is to train individuals in the theories and best practices of the rapidly growing youth development profession. Youth Development promotes the creation of safe environments where young people are allowed to offer their opinions and conceptions about the world; places where supportive and lasting relationships are fostered and leadership abilities are encouraged, and where informal learning helps educate the youth about ideals of justice, community, and democratic practices. 

                                YDEV Elevator Speech   

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Classroom Testimonials from the Center for Resilience

The classroom testimonials videos on the Center for Resilience website depicted how different schools use mindfulness techniques—taught by trained instructors from the organization—in their classrooms. Students and teachers from different Rhode Island urban schools, such as Evolutions High School and William D’Abate Elementary School, described the positive effects that have resulted from the use of said techniques, including a reduction in aggression and school-related stress and an increase in focus and cooperation among students. Among these mindfulness practices, students were shown engaging in diverse respiration techniques, meditation, and other mindfulness-inspired games and art and craft activities. It was truly interesting to see the contrast between the different techniques used in the elementary and high school classrooms. For example, the high school students were taught to use more breathing and meditation practices whereas the elementary school students were taught more active and art and craft-based projects such as glitter bottles and the “I can do this” motivational finger technique. When comparing the ages between the high school and elementary school students, it makes sense that the younger students were taught the more active and artistic techniques as they seemed to be more suited for a younger audience. They also seemed better suited to the issues that affect students at these particular academic stages, issues such as difficulty concentrating after transitioning from active periods such as recess. 
 Evolutions High School and William D’Abate Elementary School 
                                 Classroom Testimonials Videos

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Activism and the Youth Vote

What questions do you have about this election? 

I want more information regarding Hillary Clinton’s “email controversy,” including answers to the following questions. What was in those emails? Can she be persecuted for this issue? Is she still under investigation?   

What makes you want to vote? 

One year ago, after attending a ceremony called the Oath of Allegiance, during which I swore my loyalty to this country, I was handed a large enveloped by an immigration officer that included a signed letter by the president of the United States congratulating me for my efforts in becoming a citizen, a brand-new certificate of naturalization, and, most importantly, instructions on how to register to vote, with a pamphlet that explained my rights as a new voter. In other words, a year ago, after ten years of living in this country as legal resident, I became a citizen and was finally given the opportunity to vote. Becoming a citizen was a truly significant event in my life, not only because I was finally allowed to participate in this nation’s elections, but, since I moved to this country before I turned eighteen, it also meant that this year would be my first time voting at all.

Another reason that I’m excited to vote this year is the fact that a woman is among my options for the presidency. As a woman, it makes me truly excited to imagine another woman in this position of power; I think it shows how far we have come in terms of gender equality. Nevertheless, I also understand that there is much still to be done to advance gender equality, and my hope is that having a woman as a president will result in more proactive efforts in reducing gender inequality.

What makes you shy away from the voting booth?

Image result for elections 2016Even though I’m certainly eager to vote this year, I must admit that sometimes I doubt the importance of my vote. I often question whether my vote would actually make a difference, and this thought has often lessened my enthusiasm to vote. However, one quote has slowly changed this belief and steadily restored my interest in voting. As my mom just recently told me, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.”

Do you feel well informed about the issues and candidates? 

Unfortunately, due to the large number of responsibilities that I had to juggle this year—a job, school, internship—I’m not as informed as I wanted to be, with regard to this year’s important issues and competing candidates. Nevertheless, I have watched all of the presidential debates and have read some articles regarding this year’s elections.  

Does this election draw you in or alienate you?

Certain aspects of this election have certainly drawn me toward the process, such as the fact that a woman is in the race and that issues of significant personal importance are being discussed, such as immigration and abortion. However, this year a large quantity of controversial information has been uncovered about both candidates, and this alienates me from the election.

My Questions 

1. How much does my vote count?
2. How do you respond to the previous question if a youth asks it or holds the belief that her or his vote does not count, as an excuse for not voting?
3. How can you talk about politics with young people without uncovering your own political bias?


Monday, October 24, 2016

Context Mapping and Identity

Context Mapping 
When Mitch met with Julian a week after the “bathroom graffiti incident” he asked him to verbally list the different spaces and relationships “he must negotiate each day”. In response, Julian listed people and places such as home, mom, the bus, the school hallway, academic classes, and teachers. Following this, he was given another task, to write this list down and explain what he believed each environment and individual listed expected of him. This process of listing and illustrating different environments and relationships and their centrality to an individual’s life is known as context mapping; in the meeting between Mitch and Julian this contextual tool was used to further analyze Julian’s relationship with different environments and people in his life and to evaluate how these diverse relationships have affected his identity development.

My Own Context Map

Four Identities
After criticizing some of the concepts described in Erickson’s fifth developmental stage—identity versus role confusion—James Marcia developed his own identity theory, the identity status theory. With his theory Marcia introduced four identity statuses, foreclosed identity, diffuse identity, identity moratorium, and achieved identity. 

Foreclosed Identity: When a person chooses an identity without much though or experimentation of other life directions, the person is said to be in a status of foreclosure. People can be forced into foreclosure by their environment or by family members or other significant individuals in the person’s life. For example, someone might choose a certain vocation because of a lack of professional opportunities in his or her town, or a parent might want their child to follow in their footsteps and choose the profession they had. People can also become foreclosed because of their own need to fit in or a lack of interest of exploring other opportunities. In all cases foreclosed individuals chose an identity course without much question and maintain this identity in all contexts.

Diffuse identity: In contrast to foreclose identity individuals with a diffuse identity do not adhere to any life direction but continuously change their identity preferences depending on the context. Because of their lack of identity alliance these individuals tend to be easily influenced by others and tend to constantly change their beliefs and opinions to fit in with others. In the case above, Julian acted differently depending on the environment and people he was surrounded by. When he was with his parents he was studious and well-behaved, with his friends he was social but never showed his real personality, and with Antwon he was rebellious and tried to impress him. Julian is perfect example of a person with a diffused identity status.

Moratorium: Identity Moratorium is the penultimate step, and is the crisis that precedes identity achievement. Individuals in this phase tend to be in a constant state of experimentation by continuously trying and changing beliefs, behaviors, relationships, roles and directions. However, the individual experiments without never committing to any one identity. Therefore, this is period is for conducting trials only. When I first started college, I was sure that I wanted to study art; however, after a couple of semesters I decided that working with children was more my forte and switched to teaching. Nevertheless, after experiencing some disappointments with this major I made my final change and switched to youth development, where I finally found my home. My constant change and experimentation during this time is an example of identity moratorium.

Achieved Identity: This is the final step of Marcia’s Identity Theory, in which the individual finds the answer to the question “who am I?” After experiencing crisis and constant changes from the preceding stage the person is ready to decide on a path and identity that would be constant in any context. It is important to understand, however, that even though this is the final phase it should not be thought of as the end. People are continuously evolving and experiences can help a person reconfigure their previously-developed identity or change it to the degree that the person must start the process all over again.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ideology Inventory Quiz

This is actually the second time I have taken the Ideology Inventory Quiz and, just as before, the results indicate that I am still a so-called “positive youth development worker.” The Ideology Horoscope defines the main philosophical viewpoint behind the positive youth development identity as a belief that all youth possess a collection of assets, including external assets such as support systems--family, friends, mentors, etc.--and levels of boundaries and empowerment that are sometimes fostered by their support systems or their environments. Besides external assets, positive youth development workers also believe that all youth possess a set of internal assets that can include their commitments to learn, positive identities, social competencies, and positive attitudes, amongst others. In order to help youth better develop and utilize their internal and external assets, youth workers must develop environments that can foster these capabilities.

Ever since I decided to become a youth worker, the idea of creating environments that help youth develop their particular talents and capabilities has become one my main missions. Therefore, the results from this quiz were not surprising, as they significantly match my preferences for youth work and my personality, especially my desire to create positive developmental environments. Just as described in the definition of the positive youth development ideology, I believe that all youth possess certain assets that are particular to themselves, and in order to develop these assets, it is my responsibility as a youth worker to create environments that can help them further develop their abilities.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Story Dedicated to my Grandma

My grandma is a creature of habit. She wakes up every morning and after drinking her Hispanic milk and coffee concoction she gets ready for her daily routine. It all starts with her regular morning walk around her neighborhood, during which she makes sure to visit every house in town and engage in conversation with every neighbor. Her conversations always involve talking about current town events or other important local gossip. However, it is her questions such as “How is your son doing?” or “Are you feeling better?” that reveal the main intentions behind these visits—her need to make sure that everyone is doing okay in her neighborhood. My grandma has lived in this small Dominican neighborhood for more than thirty years, and she has become a recognized character in this place. She knows everyone and everyone knows Mercedes, “Mama Tata” as some people prefer to call her. As she continues her stroll through her beloved streets, she is constantly stopped by different people wanting to talk to her or by the sound of someone shouting “Good morning, Mama Tata!”

However, her routine does not end there. After completing her long walk, she prepares for her second most important task of the day, which is preparing lunch for her large family. However, “family” for my grandma does not only consist of her immediate kin; it also includes a large number of neighbors and friends. Since she considers them part of her family, she believes that it is her responsibility to ensure that they are also always well fed. Every day my grandma prepares an extra plate of food that she keeps separate from the meal that she serves to her immediate family. This plate is not to be touched—not matter how badly you want seconds—as the meal belongs to any friend or neighbor who did not have enough money to afford a meal that day. This untouchable meal never went to waste however, as every day a different neighbored or friend would sit at our table and eat the meal that had been set aside.  
Unfortunately, my move from the Dominican Republic to the United States has prevented me from continuing to be part of my grandma’s daily routine. I’m not longer her companion during her walks, as I often was when we lived together. I’m also unable to be present during her meals. Nevertheless, these events have shaped who I am today. Many of the people my grandma visited during these walks were older residents who often felt alone and abandoned by their families. You could always see in their face how appreciative they were of my grandma’s daily visits. These types of interactions taught me about the importance of caring for others. This lesson has stayed with me for years, and it is one of the main reasons why today I want to be a youth worker. My grandma’s caring and protective spirit has been an important influence in my life, and that is why I consider her one of the most significant coauthors in my life story.   

List of significant vocabulary words and concepts from the chapter reading          
  • Social Construction
  • Theoretical Thinking
  • Theoretical Imagination
  • Co-construct
  • Guiding Stories
  • Interpsychological Development
  • Scaffolding
  • Zone of Proximal Development 
  • Co-authoring
  • Mental Bridge

List of coauthors from my life story              
  • My mother (Delsy)
  • My father (Robert)
  • Sisters (Laura and Katherina)
  • Boyfriend (Michael)
  • Ex-boyfriend (Anthony)
  • Best Friend (Tanny)
  • Grandma (Mercedes)
  • Brothers (Tito and Joshua)
  • Teacher (Miss Dolores)
  •  Friend (Andrew)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Color Brave

There are different ways in which a person can feel invisible. For example, people with disabilities feel invisible when the buildings and the streets that they frequent are not designed with their disabilities in mind, making it hard for them to move around these spaces. Teenagers feel invisible when their opinions are not heard just because they are considered too young to have one. And people of color feel invisible when they are told that their differences are not real and the difficulties that they experience because of said differences do not exist.  This forced invisibility of race is what Mellody Hobson and Nayyrah Waheed describe as “color blindness.”
Color blindness is a phrase that many have used with the intention of expressing their believed lack of racism; however, as Waheed describes it, in reality the person using this phrase is stating his or her need for individuals of color to become invisible, even if he or she does not realize it. For many, their skin color is not only a diversifying characteristic but it is also a symbol of pride and an aspect that defines them.  Turning a blind eye to a person’s skin color is erasing who they are. 
Mellody Hobson
Besides erasing people, using the term color blindness has other negative consequences, such as the ironic effect of fostering racism. Hobson explains this best in her TED talk presentation when she says, “Now, color blindness, in my view, doesn’t mean that there’s no racial discrimination, and there’s fairness. It doesn’t mean that at all. It doesn’t ensure it. In my view, color blindness is very dangerous because it means we’re ignoring the problem.” When racial differences are ignored so are the issues that people of color have to confront and the possible solutions to these problems, thus enforcing racism.

In response, Hobson offers a solution to stop this erasing of color and people. Instead of being blind to differences in race, Hobson argues, we should create more opportunities to reflect and talk about these differences. In others words, we should be more “color brave.” Being color brave, however, can be difficult, especially if other people are not ready for the race talk. I remember when I casually brought up the issue of race in front of a couple of coworkers. I was sitting at work—a summer camp that caters to a mostly upper-class population—with other coworkers when one of the children approached me and asked why my skin was brown. Without any hesitation, I explained to her that people come in different colors: tan, black, white. I could not finish my conversation as one coworker interrupted, trying to stop the uncomfortable discussion. Being a first-generation Hispanic and growing up in a racially mixed household, I have never found the talk to be an issue, but incidents such as this demonstrated that not everyone is as open about race. That is why I want to conclude this entry by praising organizations such as Youth in Action, which offers youth an environment in which they can interact with people of diverse backgrounds and express their opinions about issues such as race and racial injustice without the fear of being censored or reprimanded about their thoughts. We need more places where color blindness is not accepted and color bravery is embraced.  

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Leading with Youth

Image result for youth in action“I’m glad I’m not that age anymore” is a phrase I have often used while reminiscing about my teenage years. For me, being a teenager was not that bad; I had a great support system that consisted of a close group of friends and family members who loved me, and without the demands of college and work, I had more free time to be involved in hobbies such as art and sports. Nevertheless, there is a reason that phrase always comes to mind when I think about those years, a reason that I believe many other teenagers can relate to. That reason is freedom of expression and how often I was denied it.
As a teenager, it was common for me to feel that my opinion did not matter. This was especially true in school, a place where, even though I spent most of my teenage years inside it, I was never allowed to offer my opinion regarding the curriculum or even the appearance of the classroom. If I ever raised concerns about such issues, I was always seen as disruptive. It was a strange predicament; as a teenager I was expected to be mature and start preparing for adulthood but at the same time I was not allowed to express my ideas or voice my beliefs just as a confident adult would.
My experiences as a teenager are exactly the type of situations that Youth in Action is trying to prevent. With its philosophy of leading with youth, the program fosters a welcoming environment where teens can express their opinion without fear of judgement or reprehension. With its location on the south side of Providence, YIA opens its doors to one of the youth populations most vulnerable to this type of censorship--teenagers belonging to working-class families--and offers them the opportunity not only to become part of the organization but also to become leaders and decision-makers within it. YIA youth members are allowed to assume leadership positions, such becoming members of the board of directors, and they have a say in any decision made in the organization, from what color paint should be used on the walls to decisions regarding the organizations budget. In YIA youth is not a seen as just teens but also as important members of their community with significant opinions and ideas of how to make Providence better. Youth are given a voice by not only teaching them how to express their opinion about issues they believe need change but they are also given the opportunity to take real action in this change by allowing them to create, lead and participate in programs aim to make an impact in the community.

Looking back, I can see how a place like Youth in Action would have been beneficial for me and my peers--a free and open environment where we would have been allowed to express our opinions without the fear of being label as disobedient or rule-breakers. Youth in Action's philosophy of leading with youth would have helped me become a more confident and expressive teenager even in places where I was not allowed to be. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Seven Characteristics of Youth Work

Image result for youth development
            It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between Youth Work and other youth-related professions as many of Youth Work’s defining characteristics, values, and principles are similar to other occupations. For example, as described in the article, a youth worker must guide youths by “[Enabling] young people to develop holistically, working with them to facilitate their personal, social and educational development, to enable them to develop their voice, influence and place in society and to reach their full potential” (Thompson, Westwood,Wood, 2015, p. 2).Though this definition successfully describes some of the defining characteristics of the Youth Work profession, it fails to specify what makes the profession different from other youth-related occupations. A youth social worker can help their clients “develop holistically,” and a teacher can facilitate their students’ “personal, social, and educational development” and “enable them to reach their full potential” (Thompson, Westwood, Wood, 2015, p. 2). What makes Youth Work unique, however, can be best described by the seven characteristics that are not only central to the profession, but are often unique to the trade.
      Youth Work is an Educational Practice
As opposed to the type of education that is often present in schools, Youth Work educational practices are more informal. Education is less based on curricula or pre- “determined learning outcomes” (Thompson, Westwood, Wood, 2015, p. 2).  It is, instead, fostered by establishing open, trusting relationships between youth workers and youths and by creating environments that encourage learning. In some instances, however, youth workers must lead programs–or work for organizations–where more formal educational practices are necessary. An example of this would be a sex education program. It is the youth worker’s job to find innovative and creative ways to communicate this information through games, art-based projects, and other creative activities.
          Youth Work is a Social Practice
Is not uncommon for youth workers to work one-on-one with youths, however, in the profession, it is often preferable to work with groups rather than individuals. By working with groups, youth workers can foster collectivism and create comfortable, open environments for youths where they are able to “test their values, attitudes, and behaviors” with others (Thompson, Westwood, Wood, 2015, p. 2). An example of this type of environment is my youth development class, a place where working in groups and collectivism are often encouraged. This, in turn, creates an open, comfortable environment where my peers and I can freely express our values, attitudes, and behaviors.  
Youth Workers Actively Challenge Inequality and Work Toward Social Justice 
Youth workers’ jobs go beyond just educating youths about the impacts of oppression and inequality. They also include empowering youths by addressing power imbalances and teaching youths how to challenge oppressive circumstances.
Image result for new urban arts
 New Urban Arts artist mentor
working with a student
When Possible, Young People Choose to be Involved
Is not always possible for youths to freely choose to be part of a program, especially if the program is run in a school or is a court mandate. However, youth programs are run on a voluntary basis for the most part. This means that youths are allowed to participate in programs and become members of groups of their own choosing. Of all the youth programs that I have visited, New Urban Arts best exemplifies this trait. In this program, youths are not only in charge of deciding whether they want to be a part of the program, but they are also in charge of creating their own curricula. They decide which art project they would like to work on, and they choose which art teacher they want to work with.  
Youth Work Seeks to Strengthen the Voice and Influence of Young People
One of the main jobs of youth workers is to empower youth and to encourage them to positively affect their environments. In order to foster empowerment and inspire change, youth workers must first educate youths by fostering democratic knowledge and promoting democratic behavior.
Youth Work is a Welfare Practice
Another important characteristic of Youth Work is the focus on the welfare and protection of youths. Youth workers should always advocate for the well being of young people. This is a significant and important practice as many youth workers often work with at-risk youths or youths living in disadvantaged areas. 
Youth Work Works with Young People “Holistically”

Young people often encounter challenges and obstacles that are complex and particular to them. Working with youth “holistically” means that the youth worker understands the diversity of these problems and the complexity of the individual rather than trying to define said individual by a single issue.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

About Me

Hello! My name is Isa Cespedes I love art, science
and working with children
I love to draw plants and other types of organic figures. This is a drawing that I made of a plantain plant  a plant native to my country, the Dominican Republic.

My goal is to combine my love of art and since with the work I do with children just like in this shadow puppet video that I and a group of middle school children created.

If I'm not doing school work or doing something artistic I like to spend time with my family 
and with my boyfriend of five years