The 3 Most Important Things I’ve Learned About Youth Work in 3 Months

By: Mecca McPherson, MD Middle School Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

I had just arrived off the metro from a closing shift at work, when I saw the email notification. I read good news – my application to intern with Asian American LEAD had been accepted! During orientation, I met the other interns and learned I would be working with the DC Middle and High School Summer Program under the tutelage of one Stephanie Lim. Though filled with slight apprehension, I was mostly excited. I couldn’t wait to meet all the youth and help them to make lasting memories that summer!
Oh, and for those who don’t know me, my name is Mecca McPherson. I’m a recent graduate of Howard University where I studied Maternal and Child Health Education and minored in over-sleeping for Calculus; I’m also quite dedicated to the HBO Series – Insecure by Issa Rae. While working with AALEAD this summer, I went on to learn so much about myself, the youth that I worked with, and the recent history of the city that reared them. I will continue to draw upon the lessons I learned this summer, even in the future and while serving as Maryland Middle School Program Coordinator. So a very special thanks to the D.C. Youth!

1. No movement = No movement
The most anxiety I felt while completing my internship revolved around creating and facilitating my own workshops. My first workshop was a Classic Rookie Mistake™. I did a college presentation *yawn* using a Prezi and a projector *snore*. Luckily, a few of the youth I presented to were upcoming seniors and very interested in learning what to look for when picking out a school, but the poor middle school youth were no doubt bored to tears. Working further with youth expanded my mind (and improved my facilitation style) and I realized there were a variety of ways to learn and teach that don’t require sitting down, being quiet, and staring at a board. Youth who are being physically stimulated can more easily be mentally stimulated in a learning situation.

2. Youth have (drama) trauma, too
Soon I had greater opportunity to speak with more youth on a one-on-one basis and learn about their lives and families and talk to them about my own. During that time, I was surprised at the great variety of each person’s past and present realities. I didn’t have any formal training as a counselor or anything like that but as our talks continued, I found myself prompting and listening, affirming, and providing advice for any youth who asked. During my own development, I was told that ‘kids don’t have any problems’, just as long as we did well in school and didn’t run our mouths too much. Over the summer, I learned that many youth have experienced trauma and/or may be involved in petty drama. Regardless of the categorization, all youth deserve an opportunity to vent, to share their stories, or to even seek advice. Being a good, non-judgmental listener just comes with the ‘youth work’ territory.

2. “Who yells”?
Interning this summer, AALEAD was hosted by a DC public school that is also the venue of other summer programs with teachers as instructors to summer school and security guards who manned the metal detectors at the entrance of the school. I couldn’t help but notice the marked difference in the type of interactions our coordinator had with our youth in comparison to the other school personnel. Without raising her voice once or speaking in an otherwise offensive manner, Stephanie had full control over our exuberant youth the whole summer! With her as a role model, I went on to mimic her class facilitation and communication style when interacting with youth and was shocked to see how well they responded. I learned that when treating youth with respect, adults receive respect in kind. Yelling and raging is only a short-term solution that eventually breeds contempt in youth and anyway, like, who yells?


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