Youth Ambassadors

Lori Markowitz from Seattle, WA

The Project

The Youth Ambassador Program has a unique and fresh approach to the serious issue of truancy in our community. In 2009 Youth Ambassadors received a call for help from the King County Prosecutors’ office to assist with truancy workshops where under Washington law, a truancy petition is filed in juvenile court for any truant student. Youth Ambassadors serve as peer counselors for truant students and guide them through a truancy reduction plan, as powerful peer role models they are improving the overall effectiveness of truancy reduction. Peers can be a critical influence in a troubled teen’s life. We’ve witnessed the strong impact of positive peer support. As a result of the Youth Ambassador program, 60% of truant students returned to school compared to 25% before the Youth Ambassadors involvement. The success of Youth Ambassadors involvement led to work even further upstream. Truancy and attendance issues are usually precursors to dropping out of school. Unfortunately students with attendance problems are additionally likely to develop negative behaviors that directly impact their future career and job potential. The largest school district in Washington State, Seattle School District, includes a sizable diverse student population from multi-social, multi-lingual, economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Youth Ambassadors successful peer-to-peer truancy efforts lead to the launching of an elective class with an innovative new curriculum now offered at Cleveland High School.

The Progress

In September of 2012 Youth Ambassadors launched a new course at Cleveland High School entitled Introduction to Teaching; a problem-based high school class introducing the profession of teaching through service as mentors to students who are struggling with issues of attendance. The course is designed to develop knowledgeable, compassionate, and skilled mentors whose work will significantly improve student attendance and punctuality and increase the likelihood that students will consider a career in education after graduating from high school. Students will engage in participatory action research to analyze attendance and truancy issues and the broader teaching and learning context at Cleveland High School. Youth Ambassadors will additionally continue to serve as peer counselors and advance their practice of developing truancy reduction plan. The idea is, to encourage from a student perspective positive, optimistic, empathetic and compassionate attitudes. To deepen mentoring skills and build classroom photo story collages. To research the kinds of teaching that helps students engage in school and investigate what should be done to reduce truancies/ tardiness. They will start teaching effective attendance lessons in the 9th and 10th grade advisory classes, presenting lessons once a week. And the final product will include a YA teaching manual and a book of stories. The intention is to replicate the class in subsequent years across the state.

The Team

Lori Markowitz is the founder and executive director of the Youth Ambassador program, teaching and working on curriculum development. She earned her B.A. in International Business Administration from the American University of Paris and is a graduate of the University of Washington Evans School of Public Affairs, where she was the recipient of the 2005 Daniel J. Evans Leadership Award. Lori has eighteen years of NGO experience. Catherine Brown is in her eighteenth year as an educator in urban public secondary schools. As the teacher of record Ms. Brown has been a member of the Cleveland High School faculty since 2004. In addition to classroom teaching, Ms. Brown has served in a variety of leadership roles including Lead Teacher for the InfoTech Academy, Coordinator of Professional Development, and for the last three years, Academic Dean. Ms. Brown holds an MA in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Carol Coe, the director of curriculum development taught high school social studies and language arts for 35 years. Following her selection as Washington State Teacher of the Year in 1995 and recipient of a Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award. Classroom discussions were also the focus of her doctoral work at the University of Washington. Dr. Coe is currently the Social Studies Program Supervisor for the WA State, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Fearless Changemaker

In October 2007, Seattle-area youth from diverse ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds were invited to participate as Youth Ambassadors to mark the arrival of the Dalai Lama in Seattle, Washington. The Youth Ambassadors served as the official representatives and the experience was transformative. What started out as a time-limited activity evolved into a cohesive, committed group of young people who wanted to continue their efforts together. The original adult Coordinator, Lori Markowitz has moved into the role of Founder/Executive Director dedicating more than full time to the organization without compensation. The innovation and broad impact of the organization is a direct result of Lori’s vision. It is exceptional that Youth Ambassadors can address an issue plaguing our society today: the high school dropout rate and the disengagement of so many of our youth. For Lori the answer to all these issues is centered in one core value: compassion. Lori has provided the Youth Ambassadors with the tools necessary to become leaders and role models among their peers producing strong community leaders, empowered by their experience. Lori knows every single one of them at a personal level and therefore understands their needs, fully committed to providing her students with what they need to be successful. Lori was the recipient of the 2005 Daniel J. Evans Leadership Award and received the 2012, Jack Olive International Compassionate Organization Award.

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