Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Youth Village: Innovative Approaches To Serve At-Risk Youth

Editor's note: This is part of a series entitled "Innovative Approaches to Serve At-Risk Youth."

We know from one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies on interventions for at-risk youth,
that many traditional approaches don't work. Surprisingly, while approaches such as counseling, mentoring, homework help and camp have an effect, it's not what you'd expect. It's a negative one.

But that doesn’t mean we should just give up. Instead it means that we need to move from traditional to innovative approaches to support youth at risk.

This post is part of a series where we will look at innovative ideas that show promise for a supporting at-risk youth to realize their potential.

In this piece, we will look at a youth village and how it moved the lives of at-risk youth in a positive direction.

Traditional Approach: Boarding Schools for Privileged Youth

Traditionally, boarding schools are an option chosen by wealthy parents to provide more opportunities for leadership for children in a supportive environment. It is also a great step toward independence before graduating from high school. Those parents generally have the financial means to make such an experience possible for their children. However, such opportunities should not only be available to children who were lucky enough to be born into families who could afford this. Research and evidence show that students living in poverty could also benefit from such an experience.  

Innovative Approach: Boarding Schools for At-Risk Youth

Education researcher James Coleman showed that schools’ have minimal impact on students who live in poverty. This is because problems are systemic. However, the American Psychological Association points to one strategy that has been proven to work. That is to improve student’s settings and the conditions within them.

That is exactly the approach taken at Mevo'ot Yam Youth Village. It looks like a tropical resort, but it’s not. Instead it is home to disadvantaged youth who build crucial life skills such as goal setting, endurance, and inner confidence by learning to ride the waves on a surfboard, navigate the sea on a boat, and study to improve marine life.  

The Youth Village serves as a boarding school not to the rich and famous, but to about 400 children from families living in poverty. While children are encouraged to spend weekends and holidays with families, they are no longer constantly surrounded by an environment where they face adverse conditions such as hunger, drug abuse, lack of supervision, or domestic violence. They are surrounded by faculty and staff that emphasize the importance crucial life skills like goal setting, endurance, academic success aligned to talents and interests, teamwork, meeting challenges, and helping others.

Under the guidance of the school and Village staff, the students are responsible for creating their home by the sea. They also work with experts from Universities and organizations to solve real problems today. They are assessed by how they work to solve these problems, creative dialogue they engage in about these problems, and their ability to present their findings and solutions in real world contexts. The youth is know they play a part in the shaping of the sea and thus making the world a better place by tackling important ecological issues.

Students graduate with specific skills that prepare them for success in academic studies or careers in areas such as marine biology and/or the naval services. You can watch this video for insight into the student experience.

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