Empowering Junior High School Students (SDC Workshop Handout)

This seminar (originally offered at an SDC
) is intended to stimulate critical reflection on some of the foundational concepts that underly almost every aspect of our teaching and interaction with junior high school students inside and outside the classroom. Using material from a youth empowerment program called the "Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program", the seminar seeks to elevate our thinking beyond only "how do I teach English" but also to ask "who really are my students?", "what kind of future do I want them to have?", "what are the biggest struggles in their lives?" and, "what can I do to help?". As JETs, we may not have a lot of power, but every action we take makes a difference, and we can also try to act as catalysts for positive change by encouraging others to ask these and other questions.

Outline:
1. What makes this age special?
2. What are our dreams and goals for our junior-high-school students?
3. What challenges does this age group face?
4. What can we do?

1. What makes this age (12-15) special?

What do you think?

“Falling between the ages of 12 and 15 and representing a transition from childhood to youth, junior youth experience rapid physical, intellectual, and emotional changes…A new level of awareness fosters in them an increased interest in profound questions and in their talents and abilities…During this short and critical three-year period, ideas about the individual and society that may very well shape the rest of their lives are formed.”

2. What are our dreams and goals for our junior-high-school students?

Think about the kind of young people you want your students to become in the near future when they move on to senior high-school and beyond.

a. “Will the youth you envision be characterized by a high sense of purpose? What would they consider this purpose to be?”
b. “On what do they hope they will focus their energies most?”
c. “What would motivate them to work for their ideals?”
d. “How aware do you expect them to be of the challenges facing humanity today? Would they be convinced that they can actually contribute to making the world a better place?”

3. What challenges does this age group face?

“Some views of junior youth do not cast this period of life in a positive light. Popular views, for instance, regard this age as full of confusion and crises. Such thoughts foster conditions in which undesirable patterns of behaviour are spread. [Another] understanding of this age is that of selfless young people with “an acute sense of justice, eagerness to learn about the universe and a desire to contribute to the construction of a better world”. The negative traits they sometimes show are certainly not intrinsic to this stage in human life.

“The key issue to consider then is what the sources of unacceptable patterns of behaviour are that sometimes characterize some junior youth. Two factors require particularly careful thought in this regard. First, the effect of negative social forces on many communities has led to the spread of various social ills that have great influence on how young people view themselves and society. Second, junior youth are heavily affected by the behaviour of adults towards them. Although at this age they are gaining insights into many profound matters, adults sometimes insist on treating them like children. In addition, the difference in words and actions that some adults at times exhibit can be a source of confusion to young people who are looking for standards by which to shape their lives.”

In thinking about the junior youth in your school(s), discuss how they are affected by destructive forces and the patterns of behaviour they give rise to.

4. What can we do?

Describe some of the ways you can help junior youth in your school overcome the effects of these negative forces in society. What are some of the ways you can help them advance their character and intellectual abilities and learn to contribute to the progress of their families and communities? If possible, draw on examples from experience.

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Works Cited:
Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth (Book 5), Ruhi Institute, Palabra Publications, 2006
“Statement 2: Early Adolescence”, Youth Conference Materials, The Universal House of Justice, 2013

English