Youth Are Often the Real Teachers

Youth Are Often the Real Teachers


We all too often think of adults as the educators and youth as the learners – a paradigm of our top-down societal structure.  This weekend was a great example of where the adult “teachers” learned as much as their young students.

Our partnership with STEAM Studio continues to yield dividends far beyond expectations – this time in partnership with HALO Foundation, an international organization whose Kansas City location partners with area homeless shelters, residential care facilities, and transitional living programs to provide art therapy and life skills-based programming to youth in the greatest need.

Several Gould Evans staff and friends volunteered to lead a group of youth through a series of design and coding activities. Fortunately, we had students join us from the Education Department at Rockhurst University to handle the coding exercises!

Among the day’s activities was an exercise to design one’s very own Dream Room – a place that supports each youth’s favorite activities, provides things that make them happy, and offers comfort, safety, and protection.  We shared a few thought-starters including an underwater hotel, a treehouse, a room atop a skyscraper, a retreat in a national park, a simple shelter made of stones, and a youthful play area in a library.  Many of these examples got an enthusiastic “that’s dope!”

Translating personal values into a room design drew a little reluctance at first, but it wasn’t long before each participant’s imagination dove deep into the exercise.  That’s when our team discovered insightful glimpses into their lives and values.  One young woman’s room concept centered on the theme of refuge and escape. Featuring LED lighting, a surround-sound stereo, video displays, a comfortable sectional sofa, and a bed tucked into a wall cubby, her dream room was an ideal place to get lost in her music.  Another student designed a bookcase that concealed a door leading to a secret garden.  Together these elements expressed her desire for “escape” and “sanctuary.”

Adam Sterns learns how a young woman’s values radically inform her Dream Room (image courtesy David Reid)

Two young gentlemen included large refrigerators in their dream rooms.  One teen suspended his refrigerator high above the floor, far out of reach of outsiders. The other student buried his refrigerator underground and included a keypad security access system.  For kids who have grown up not knowing where their next meal is coming from, the notion of protecting food, and having the reassurance that they will eat on any given day, is critical. Not many of us would have thought to put a highly secure refrigerator in our own dream rooms, which tells us something about daily comforts that we take for granted.

Another participant designed a room complete with a reading net, slam ball court, and skateboard tube – expressions of a more free existence and fulfillment of happiness.

Ronda Reid learns about the finer points of Slam Ball (image courtesy David Reid)

Ronda Reid learns about the finer points of Slam Ball (image courtesy David Reid)

We found great poignancy in these kids’ ideas: while each dream room was filled with amenities far removed from the youth’s day-to-day existence, the concepts simultaneously exposed the fears and struggles these individuals face each day.  We have to remind ourselves what it must be like to be in their shoes, to have woken up that morning in a homeless shelter.  We all felt very connected during the event, but thinking more deeply about their ideas tells us how far apart our existences really are. We all need to be thankful for our blessings.

Once immersed in their creations, none of our young designers wanted to leave – only pizza enticed them away from their designs.  Little did we know that earlier that morning, Aubony Chalfant, a HALO Center facilitator, had a difficult time convincing this group to join us.

It was heartwarming to hear the kids ask when they could come back.

Art and design are a great means to discover common ground and share dreams (image courtesy David Reid)

Art and design are a great means to discover common ground and share dreams (image courtesy David Reid)