By Mercedes Maness, CEDIK Extension Intern
The Youth Engagement Leadership Program (YELP) is a highly adaptable curriculum that has been introduced to rural and urban youth across the Commonwealth. In the case of the fifth grade students at William Wells Brown Elementary School, located in Lexington, Kentucky, they got a full day immersion into the program. Throw some Harry Potter into the mix, and you have a recipe – or a potion – for success.
On Tuesday, May 16th, at approximately 9:30am, 37 fifth graders filed into the multipurpose room of the elementary school that also doubles as a community center, ready to start the day. The students were given acceptance letters to the fictional Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, and sorted into their respective houses, all in accordance with the popular children’s book series. Lexpecto Patronum, the Lexington, KY Branch of the Harry Potter Alliance, provided materials, as well as volunteers.
Though perhaps not in direct correlation, community engagement and social responsibility are concepts that can be tied to Harry Potter, or nearly any other topic. From art to economic development, YELP allows youth to evaluate their communities, both assets and issues, and reflect on what businesses or enterprises would help create a vibrant economy that would encourage community development.
A main priority of YELP is to allow students develop personal, as well as communal identity. One way to foster this identity is through a variety of art forms. Students at this program took a personality test, created a coat of arms, and drafted their own version of George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I’m From.” Each of these exercises aims to open up the conversation about what we value and what experiences we have that both set us apart and unify us.
Youth voices – while often overlooked – are incredibly insightful. For example, the students at William Wells Brown were aware of many issues throughout their community, including gun violence, hunger, and homelessness. YELP curriculum focuses not just on business development, but also social entrepreneurship and the impact that businesses can have on communities. YELP helps students develop a business plan, and many of the students taking part in this particular session had business plans focused on addressing the issues mentioned above.
After refining business plans, playing a few games, and practicing business pitches, students then presented to school officials, who had the difficult job of choosing a winner for the House Cup. The students each left with a new copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and a wand, as well as a heightened sense of personal and community identity.
YELP is not about just about community development, local economies, or public issues, but more how each of those overlap and interact with one another. Our own personal experiences shape how we view the world around us, and how we develop solutions to the problems we face each day. Instilling a sense of civic duty into youth is key to raising up a generation of change makers.