Teen Women in Action (1994-2009)
Mission: Teen Women in Action (TWA) cultivates 100 teen women leader each year through an intensive, year long after school program offered in most DC public high schools including Anacostia, Cardozo, Banneker, Coolidge, Chavez, McKinley, Eastern, Bell, and Wilson. Teen women participants significantly increasing their knowledge and skills in self advocacy, reproductive health, mental and physical health, and project development, developed friendships, earned community service hours, and developed school-based projects. TWA features after-school trainings that utilize discussion, role play, drawing, writing, poetry, games, personal experience, and speakers as tools for exploration and learning. Training sessions cover a range of skills and issues, appeal to different learning styles, are taught by adult trainers (with monthly contributions from teen trainers), and are tailored to the age and circumstances of participants. Participant/staff ratio is 1 to 10-15, depending on group needs. TWA also provides career mentoring, stipends, and social service referrals.
Launched in 1994, TWA features a four level training model. Each level By the end of Level 1 (Building Self Concept), participants have a sense of their own self-worth, value their own knowledge, are solving problems, and leading Peer Support Circles. By the end of Level 2 (Developing Leadership), participants can work in teams, know how to navigate issues and analyze and solve problems for themselves, their friends, their schools. By the end of Level 3 (Identifying the Problem), participants have completed a needs assessment (collecting research, conducting surveys, analyzing data).
In Level 4 (Community Action) teen participants develop and implement school based projects. Some recent ones include a workshop for parents and teens on sex, communication, and relationship building; a lunch room Expose on sexual health and one on preparing for college; a campaign to allow in school HIV testing for Cardozo students, and a sexual harassment education project. After completing their projects, TWA graduates move onto Teen-Adult Partnerships (TAP) where they work as youth staff and members to create community projects that challenge and improve teen-serving institutions. TAP programs run year-round and involve a total of 35 paid teen staff that receive more training and work in five main areas: training and facilitation, project and campaign development, academic support and college readiness, and other issues.
TWA has an extensive list of learning objectives for each of the 6 modules in our curricula. They are summarized below:
Self Advocacy: Through trainings, participants will: 1) Increase understanding of healthy relationships and personal power; increase skills in self assessment, navigating romantic relationships; confronting peer pressure; practicing assertive communication; and resolving conflicts in relationships; 2) Increase skills in problem solving, assertive communication, decision making and goal setting. 3) Increase skills and commitment to team work; increase appreciation for diversity and understanding of oppression.
Reproductive Health: Through trainings, participants will: 1)Increase knowledge of internal/external reproductive system, the menstrual cycle, body care, abstinence, contraceptive options, and the importance of condom use; 2) Increase skills in and commitment to pregnancy prevention and responding to an unplanned pregnancy; increase understanding of how to recognize, prevent, and treat STIS and prevention, transmission, and testing for HIV; 3) Increase access to clinics, counseling, and other community reproductive health resources;
Mental and Physical Health: Through trainings, participants will: 1) Increase understanding of factors that contribute to mental and physical health, obesity and poor diet; increase knowledge of and commitment to good nutrition; 2) Increase skills and commitment to exercise; Increase knowledge of stress and skills in positive coping strategies and stress-reduction methods; 3) Increase knowledge about drug abuse, commitment to not using drugs, and skills in dealing with addiction with family-friends.
Violence: Through trainings, participants will: 1) Increase understanding of personal power and responsibility, healthy ways to deal with anger, and setting boundaries; 2) increase knowledge of abusive relationships, the cycle of violence, and sexual harassment and legal remedies; Increase commitment to end abusive relationships and accessing resources; 3) Increase participant skills in and commitment to conflict de-escalation, win-win solutions, and other means of resolving conflict.
Civic Engagement: Here teen participants conduct a needs assessment and design and implement a project through which they: 1) Become experts on issues; 2) Increase skills in research, survey design, distribution, focus group facilitation, and analysis; 3) Increase skills in project planning, goal setting, and implementation;
In the course of its 14 year history, TWA developed more than 1000 teen women leaders from ten DC public schools who worked together to improve their schools, educate peers, develop and pass laws, and support each other through the turbulent teenage years. As YWP’s mother program, TWA was the means through which we developed our program curricula and approach and the foundation for the advocacy work that is now the focus of our organization.
Foster Care Campaign (FCC) (1999-2009)
Mission: The Foster Care Campaign builds the power of foster youth – training them as leaders and advocates and putting them to work educating their peers and pushing for system reform. FCC’s work is guided by three long term outcomes: 1) To build foster youth leaders and advocates; 2) To increase the well-being, rights, and independence of youth in group homes and Independent Living Programs; and 3) To transform CFSA and other institutions to better serve older youth.
Regulation Monitoring: Since 2003, we’ve been monitoring the quality of services in group homes and ILPs and reporting the conditions and violations of group home regulations to City Council as part of the annual CFSA oversight hearing. In 2001, working with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Children, Youth, and Families – we wrote and advocated for the passage of regulations for group homes and independent living programs (Chapter 26). These regulations provided critical guidelines for congregate care conduct and monitoring, increased the quality of care for youth residents, and established youth rights in several key areas.
Youth Leader Building: From 2003-2008, FCC has cultivated more than 125 foster youth and ally leaders (and staff members) who assumed key roles as peer educators, policy developers, researchers, event organizers, and publication producers. The presented testimonies, cultivated relationships with City Council members and CFSA staff, and made hundreds of recommendations.
Publications: Released two youth-created Handbooks, Taking Matters into Your Own Hands (3.09) and How to Deal with the System: Important Information that Will Help You. Both publications provide more than 200 pages of essential information on rights, regulations, and how to navigate the system – including articles, resource pieces, and personal stories on the court system, social workers, monitors, group homes, judges, educational and vocational opportunities, laws, and more. The Handbooks were distributed – via paper, email, and website – to 1000s of youth in care, CFSA staff, GALS, child advocacy groups, families, and others. YWP also contributed to research with the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) that was included in CSSP”s report Foster Care Group Homes in the District of Columbia, June 2001 and collected surveys to document teen needs and experiences and serve as baseline data to measure the impact of regulations.
Visual Education Tools: The Journey of Uncertainty, a documentary about foster youth transitioning out of care that was created by FCC adult staff member Tosin Ogunyoku. Tosin oversaw the production of three PSAs on the realities of youth aging out –one focusing on permanence, one on safety net services, and one on education. All capture the harrowing experiences of teens preparing to age out of the foster care system.
Group Home Rights and Navigation Trainings: Trained more than 500 teens in group homes and ILPs with 5-15 hours per participant of training that focused on: 1) increasing life, self-advocacy, and leadership skills that will help teens build independence and self-reliance, take on responsibility, and transition out of foster care and 2) Providing skills and information they need to stand up for their rights, navigate systems, monitor regulation implementation, and take advantage of opportunities
Summer Leadership Institutes (SLIs): FCC brought together more than 400 foster youth and adult caregivers over the past four summers for skills building and dialogue on critical issues. Leadership Institutes provide a teen-led forum for foster youth and adult caregivers and advocates to receive training and information, network, share experience, speak out on issues, and solve problems in the system. The event typically features 8-12 workshops organized into three tracks: Learning and Sharing, System Resources, and Dialogue.
Mandatory Allowance Campaign (MAC): provides a $300 monthly allowance to teens in group homes (via direct deposit) in exchange for solid academic performance and responsible financial management. MAC provides cash for critical needs, encourages positive behaviors; and helps teen save money that will help them transition out of the system. This year, FCC staff is working with CFSA to implement a pilot in June for 30 teens and a full program for 180 in October 2010. This implementation is the result of a 3 year campaign, started by our youth staff in 2007. The first year involved youth meetings, research on national models and with local DC foster youth, and testimonies to City Council and CFSA and seeking support from the CFSA Monitor (Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) and community groups. The second year involved negotiations and working groups with CFSA to get approval. Finally, we are moving into implementation with the full support of the new CFSA director Dr. Roque Gerald.
Transition Center Campaign: Launched in August 2008, this youth-led campaign aims to establish a foster youth transition center that would provide comprehensive training, educational and employment support, and other development to older youth preparing to exit the system. So far our teen staff have released a report documenting the problems with existing services and offering successful state models and a photography research project called “Youth Speak Out About the DC Transition Center: that includes one-on-one interviews and photographs of 50 older youth talking about aging out. The team met with mayoral and CFSA staff and presented two testimonies to City Council, and are working with CFSA to get teens onto their working group on older youth. So far, 4 Council Members have signed onto support the Transition Center and our Speak Out project is being displaced in the City Council Building.
Passing legislation to create an independent DC Child Welfare Ombudsman: Built on several successful state models, the Ombudsman would enhance CFSA”s current capacity including through four main functions: 1) Compiling, creating, disseminating information on rights, policy, services for children and youth; 2) Receiving, investigating, responding to complaints; and 3) Evaluating agency contracts and programs; and 4) Making policy and practice recommendations. FCC has been working on the Ombudsman project off and on since 2005, doing research, building community support, and presenting various testimonies to City Council, and meeting with City Council members. With increased staff in 2008, we’ve been able to devote more resources to pursuing the CWoOand are currently working with the American Bar Associations Center for Children and the Law to draft a conceptual framework builds community support, and work with City Council to introduce legislation.
Student Campaign for School Safety (SCSS-formerly Sexual Harassment Campaign) (2000-2005)
Mission: Led teen and adult staff, the Student Campaign for School Safety (SCSS-formerly the Sexual Harassment Campaign) seeks to end school-based harassment and make schools safer DCPS students through the passage, implementation and monitoring of the school-wide harassment policy; a student-led school safety membership; a collaborative effort with the Superintendent’s Office; and peer-led trainings on the harassment policy. Growing out of a TWA team whose members were being sexually harassed and decided to take action to stop it, the goals of the campaign are to: 1) End school-based harassment; 2) Increase school safety; and 3) Increase rights and access to decision making for DCPS students.
DCPS Sexual Harassment Policy (SHP): After two years of research, surveys, building support among teen women – SCSS wrote and passed a DCPS Sexual Harassment Policy 7.2002.
Creating Implementation Materials: SHC staff created a user-friendly version of the policy which was distributed to all DCPS teachers and administration during September 02 orientations and is currently being used by the Superintendent’s Office. We contributed to the complaint form used by all DC schools, and created a student flyer on the policy.
Training Teachers. Student Leaders on SHP: Using HEP, SCSS staff trained 50 go-to staff and 200 student leaders from 12 DC public high schools and 9 middle schools (10.03). The Harassment Education Package (HEP) B which provides tools (lesson plans, recruitment advice, evaluation tools, policy information) to go-to teachers and students so that they can conduct sexual harassment training and track policy implementation.
Facilitating the DCPS Sexual Harassment Taskforce: To implement the SHP, SCSS helped create a task force involving local youth-serving non-profits, the Office for Civil Rights, the DC PTA and officials from the Superintendent’s Office – charged with implementing the policy. SHC immediately assumed a lead role on the Taskforce and were able to get support for student involvement in implementation.
Training Students: SCSS and YWP teen and adult staff worked together to educate 1500 students in three schools (Wilson, Cardozo, Anacostia) in small-group, interactive workshops that increased student skills in: 1) understanding harassment and making commitments to not engaging in harassment and to interrupting it; 2) knowing what to do if they are harassed; and 3) holding adults accountable to grievance procedures and student rights. Pre and post test showed a knowledge gain of more than 50%.
Support Our Sisters (SOS): Launched in 2.05, SOS provided support and training to girl gang members at Cardozo High School. Teen staff conducted 6 successful peer-led trainings (12 hours) reaching a total of 10 girl gang members (Gyms). The sessions covered Wise Woman skills, fight de-escalation, listening, aggression management and included drumming and group therapy; the program was divided into three sections: Me, Myself, and I; Keeping the Peace, and Chill Out. Most significantly, SOS members began to demonstrate some of the nonviolence skills and philosophies teen trainers had encouraged through session games, discussions, and guest speakers.
Integrating Safety and a Youth Voice into School Policy: After realizing that newly-elected Superintendent Janey had not included school safety in his list of 11 levers (focal points for the DCPS strategic planning process), SCSS teen staff faxed him a letter every day until he wrote back to us in person. Shortly thereafter, we heard the announcement of the 12th lever on Safe Schools. Three out of 14 strategies in the Declaration of Education final strategic plan focus on safety. A new action item, ADevelop new discipline policies,@ was included. SCSS staff was invited to attend meetings with the DC Education Compact in order to share knowledge, expertise, and ideas around youth-led violence prevention, alternatives to suspension, harassment, and girl gang violence. Through this participation, SCSS was able to ensure the meaningful participation of young people in the strategic planning process. Working in collaboration with other DC youth organizing groups B including YEA, YARG, and FLY B we were able to pressure DC Education Compact leaders and members to a) include the authentic participation of young people, b) create a youth sector and set aside foundation dollars to facilitate it, and c) include all strategic priorities identified by youth for Compact”s recommendations to the Superintendent.
Peer Health and Sexuality Education (PHASE) (2005-2009)
Mission: The Peer Health and Sexuality Education Project (PHASE) is a teen-adult partnership that provides comprehensive sexuality education through DCPS health classes, improves access to services through teen-led campaigns, and facilitates city-wide comprehensive sex education through curricula development, advocacy, and teacher technical assistance. PHASE works to reduce unplanned pregnancies and STI-HIV infection rates while developing teen women and men as reproductive health advocates.
School-Based Sex Education Training: More than 300 DCPS teen women and men received comprehensive sex education from 2005-2007 as part of PHASE. Teens and Adults worked together to train 45 girls at Wilson with a 35 hour course and 16 girls at Cardozo with a 70 hour course. Students gained more than 60 points on pre and post tests; 80% received As or Bs in the class. In 2005-06, PHASE provided teen-led sexuality education to 200 students, with a knowledge gain of 40% points on post tests. Metro Teen AIDS and City Year trained 60 teen men at Wilson as part of PHASE.
Curricula Development: In 2006-07, PHASE became part of the official curricula at Wilson and Cardozo with a course entitled Human Sexuality and Reproduction. PHASE staff produced 70 hours of reproductive health and sex education curricula, 12 worksheets, 5 resource lists, 5 quizzes, two tests, guidelines for grading, classroom management strategies, and a workbook on mental-physical health.
Building Peer Educators: PHASE trained more than 50 peer educators in the past three years with more than 150 hours of training, support, supervised work, and hands on learning. Peer educators, who represented schools including Wilson SHS, Cardozo SHS, Anacostia SHS, Dunbar SHS, and Booker T Washington and Caesar Chavez High Schools. Peer educators served as key advocates and resources in the classroom and with administrators, promoting comprehensive sex education.
Contributing to DCPS Health Standards: PHASE youth and adult staff contributed to the development and passage of the DCPS Health Standards as members of the Healthy Youth Coalition.
Condom Availability Campaign: In summer 2008, PHASE teen staff chose condom accessibility as their annual campaign. Their goal was to increase awareness and use of a recent change in the condom availability regulations (in 8.08) that allows greater nurses’ office access to condoms for students. We are currently working with students, nurses, administration in eight DCPS schools to educate students about the new policy and how to access it and ensure that nurses and school administrators are aware of the policy and implementing the changes. PHASE staff is also collecting surveys from teen women and men (200 and counting) about access to condoms and health care. The goal is to increase condom use and safer sex among teen women and men. Our work in this area is supported by and supports the work of the Healthy Youth Coalition.