Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Douglas students step up to new challenges in REAL Leadership Program

By Eliot Dix James

Imagine a room full of rambunctious elementary school students. They just got out of class and have energy to burn. You are their leader. Your job is to guide them through after-school activities, making sure they have fun, get along and learn. And if something goes wrong, you have to fix it. Because you designed the program.

This was the experience of 19 Douglas students in Douglife’s REAL Leadership Program, which wrapped up last Friday. The program, in its second year, is unique in that students are now responsible for not only implementing, but also planning in teams, five-week programs for kids in the community.

Student leaders are immersed in two days of workshops on child development and program planning. They’re then broken into small groups where they design programs involving educational games, sports, and arts and crafts. Once the students’ plans are approved, their next job is to make them work.

“We really throw them in the deep end,” says Ashley Currie, a coordinator with the New Westminster School District, who helps run the program. “We’ve given them a life raft, but that’s about it.”

The students get weekly mentoring and a full evaluation when the program ends.

 “So far it’s been a great experience,” say Gaby Garcia, a first year Political Science student who is considering a career in business. “It’s a little different than what I envision doing in the future. It’s with children, which is a great challenge. It’s taught me a lot about taking the initiative with a group of people.”

Currie says the Douglas students rose to the challenge, and the program has had rave reviews. Most importantly, it has made after-school programming accessible to families who might not typically be able to afford it. The program is kept low-cost, in part, because of student volunteers.

Along with teaching volunteers teamwork, planning, communication, and some quick thinking, the REAL Leadership Program has proven to be a fruitful chance to network. The city hired three of nine volunteers last year. Students are also placed at the top of a list for community volunteering, because they have already been screened and trained.

Ravi Lochan, a second-year teaching student, says he would recommend it to anyone pursuing a career in education. “Even if you’re planning to teach high school like I am, it’s good to see where the kids come from.”

Garcia says the program helps develop skills useful in any career. “I think that for anyone who wants to work in a team environment or engage with people of any age level, this is a perfect opportunity.”

Learn more about the REAL Leadership Program on Douglife.