By Ari Pak, MD High School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff
AALEAD’s MD High School Program kicked off last week and the generative momentum for the coming year is already impressive. On our first day of programs at both Einstein and Blair High School, youth participated in a contest focusing on teamwork and leadership skills. They were tasked to work together to build a tall structure with a limited number of building materials.
After the energetic competition—filled with laughter, the sound of popping balloons, encouragement, and inventive techniques—youth had a chance to discuss what the activity meant to them. The insights drawn from this activity exemplified everyone’s eagerness to engage in building their own and each other’s leadership skills as well as creating a team-oriented atmosphere. One youth reflected that “It was all about the base. You have to build a strong foundation. When you have a solid base, you can build anything on top of that,” connecting our activity to building skill sets and accomplishing goals in life. Youth talked about setting a strong foundation for the new school year.
We wrapped up our exercise with “Shout Outs.” A “Shout Out” is when one person shares something they appreciate about another person in the group. This could be an idea that they thought was great, a strength or skill that was helpful, or anything to acknowledge and affirm another person in the room. The ease with which youth were able to relate to their peers and see their many strengths was inspiring. Holding in theme with our building activity, the “Shout Outs” created our base for building on those strengths moving forward in the year. After the activity was finished, the teams created so much more than a simple balloon tower: the room was filled with a sense of camaraderie, support, and excitement.
Youth also got a chance to generate goals for the year moving forward. Conversations varied from the reasons youth came to AALEAD, to the types of experiences and skills youth were looking forward to have together. I was warmly surprised by the mixed variety of responses. There were many new ideas for projects, events, and workshop topics. Some youth goals focused on acquiring specific skills such as leadership experience in leading groups and public speaking. Other goals focused on developing a sense of friendship and family within AALEAD. The varied responses about why youth came to AALEAD echo why I was drawn to AALEAD: we are learning and gaining new skills together while remaining centered in a sense of family and community.
Looking at all of the youth’s goals, I can confidently say that this year will be one to remember. Everyone is equipped with goals in mind as well as an open mind to try new things. There was one word that was shared in most reflections: Fun! We will be sure to have immeasurable amounts of fun with all of the events, projects and experiences we have to look forward to.