This empirical study describes a youth-led participatory action research project within an afterschool group setting that engaged a majority Black youth population facing adverse childhood experiences (ACES) within their urban communities. Youth-serving practitioners should be equipped with the necessary tools to address the social and emotional (SE) needs of vulnerable youth exposed to ACEs. It is also important to provide youth exposed to ACEs with safe spaces to be empowered and spaces in which their perspectives are integrated and valued.
In 2019, one Boys & Girls Club (B&GC) in Orange County of Orlando Florida, surveyed its 1,400 members to assess their overall club experience. The needs assessment indicated that club members, ages 9–12 years old, reported more challenges than other age groups relating to emotional safety, physical safety, impulse control, teamwork, and conflict resolution. The B&GC director requested university partners to collaborate with older club leaders, ages 15–19 years old, to develop a means of addressing such concerns. The researchers used a YPAR approach consisting of youth leaders collaborating with the researchers over a five-month period. The researchers met weekly with 15 B&GC youth leaders in a 90-minute group setting to design an innovative curriculum consisting of narrative tools such as role-playing and digital-storytelling for elementary-aged club members. Sessions concluded with university partners conducting semi-structured interview panels to record the youth leaders discussing the SE learning topic of the day and how the skill-building activities related to what the researchers framed as “advice to your younger-self.”
All meetings were recorded and transcribed for thematic analysis. Two YPAR process-related themes emerged: 1) valuing localized knowledge and 2) elevating youth voice through group decision-making. Localized knowledge is defined as the use of contextual information (e.g., terminology, insider insight) that the YA leaders leveraged during the weekly sessions. YA leaders’ interactions and observations shaped scenarios and activities that were age appropriate and culturally relevant for the B&GC. YA leaders also shared decision-making during the production of videos where they rotated between camera operator, actor, and director leading fellow peers and university adults. YA leaders had autonomy concerning YPAR processes and were encouraged to suggest ideas and solutions. Two YPAR outcome-related themes emerged: 1) YA leaders strengthened their own SEL competencies and 2) began to embody intergenerational mentorship.
Conclusions and Implications:
The study revealed that as youth voices are heard, and their SEL needs are met in afterschool settings, there is an opportunity to create spaces that contribute to youth’s healthy and positive development. By incorporating youth as the leading voices, this study demonstrates a transformative way to break down oppressive barriers that traditionally exist within youth-adult partnerships. While the analysis of this study is focused on one B&GC, its findings have possible implications for preparing other multiply marginalized youth to serve as intergenerational mentors to learn, strengthen, and implement SEL competencies.