Founded by youth to discuss the issues that are important to them, Real Talk is a youth-led conversation forum that has become the centerpiece of programming at the Waltham Public Library Teen Room. Twice a month, four teen leaders lead their peers in activities that promote youth voice, encourage socioemotional learning, and develop awareness of social justice issues in our community. Over the three years we have run this program, we have developed a curriculum to sustain the work of our founders and support librarians in developing similar programs in their libraries. We’re excited to share it with you!
After nine years without a teen librarian, Waltham Public Library Teen Specialist Luke Kirkland began rebuilding services for middle and high schoolers in late 2015, re-dedicating the Teen Room as a “youth empowerment laboratory” that would be guided by the interests and input of young people. The following summer, Waltham High School sophomore class president and Waltham Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year Rachel Cosgrove approached Kirkland with a proposal for a group called Activism in Youth through Creativity “that [would allow] youth to utilize their voice and creatively express themselves about important topics in the community such as drugs, violence, racism, etc.” It immediately became the most successful of our teen programs, drawing large crowds from diverse backgrounds for discussions about community policing, gun violence, healthy relationships, abortion, Black Lives Matter, and more. Based on first-year feedback, we doubled the number of events, focused on teen issues rather than political debate, and rebranded the series Real Talk.
The group meets twice a month for a total of 16 themed conversations through the school year. The conversations take place via engaging activities that involve movement, creativity, sharing, competition, and fun. The series begins with discussions about trust, family, friends, community, relationships, identity, personality, and gratitude. Having established a strong foundation, we invite the group to choose the themes they want to discuss in the spring. We have covered stress, depression, gender equality, immigration, and substance abuse. We have also held a Black History Month Celebration and a Sexual Health Game Show. Finally, we end the year with a culminating Culture Walk and a Senior Toast to celebrate graduates.
Thanks to funding by from the Library Initiative for Teens and Tweens (distributed by the Rhyme & Reason Fund of the Boston Foundation), we serve dinner to the group at each event; bring in professionals to lead specialized workshops on the most challenging topics; provide transportation for field trips; and pay stipends to our teen leaders for developing the agendas, promoting the events, and executing the activities.
We established six primary goals for this program:
-To offer a forum for teens to discuss issues of importance in their lives
-To build life skills that help them navigate tough times and difficult decisions
-To empower teens to have an impact in their lives and communities
-To foster a community of support and self-improvement
-To promote community resources related to the issues we discuss
-To reward teen leadership in our community.
And we have seen results consistent with our expected outcomes:
-Deeper relationships with our teen users
-Increased teen engagement in academics, extracurricular activities, and employment
-Increased library use and teen involvement in teen services development
-Increased student voice in school policy decisions and community politics
-Stronger relationships with youth service providers
-Increased financial stability and established work history for our teen leaders
In this presentation, hear about our work, take a look at the curriculum we are sharing with the library community, and learn some of the modular activities that we use in our events.
ALA Unit/Subunit: YALSA
Meeting Type: Program
Cost: Included with full conference registration.