Learning to See the World Through a Young Person's Eyes
“Do you remember what it was like to be a young person?,” asked Marla Lino, Director of Operations at Fronteras Unidas Pro Salud, A.C. Seated around her were 25 Baltimore City teachers, youth, and program practitioners, some just starting their careers, others well advanced in their professions. Each had enrolled in an intensive training aimed at equipping them with new skills—and new tools—for preparing underserved youth with reproductive health education and employability skills.
Over the next two weeks, each would be prompted to ponder challenging issues from a young person’s perspective. How to negotiate a sexual relationship? How to craft a resume when you lack employment experience? How to exude confidence in job interview?
Lino and three colleagues traveled from Tijuana to Baltimore to share Pro Salud’s innovative peer-to-peer methodology through the Oralé program. The training marked the final phase of a nearly two-year targeted learning exchange between youth advocates in Baltimore and Pro Salud as part of IYF’s (Re)Connecting Youth initiative.
The training included participants from Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPSS) Re-engagement Center, the Baltimore City Health Department Teen Prevention Initiative, and the MOED Westside Youth Opportunity (YO) Center.
Throughout the two weeks, the first centering on sexual and reproductive health and the second covering the Órale employability and life skills program, the Pro Salud trainers challenged participants to experience the curricula through the eyes of their younger selves. For Sandra Gonzalez, the Hispanic Liaison at the Re-engagement Center, this portion of the model was crucial, “We didn’t know how to have these conversations with our young people,” she said following the training.
Brisa Armenta Cruz, Pro Salud’s Youth Program Coordinator, shared that young people in Tijuana face many of the same barriers to opportunity as youth in Baltimore. Tools for overcoming these common obstacles were explored across cultures and languages. “But nothing was lost in translation,” according to Stan Smith, an Employment Advocate with MOED. Reflecting on the story of an Órale graduate in Tijuana, Stan thought of his own work. "Kids are scared to take the leap from childhood to adulthood,” he shared with the group, adding that Órale offered the tools to help them make this jump.
For Gina Baez, a Health Program Administrator at the Baltimore City Health Department, the training confirmed the need to continue to integrate socio-emotional learning into her work. The model also affirmed her drive to make young people feel valued. “Sometimes we are the first ones to make them feel appreciated,” she said.
The cross-cultural dialogue not only built connections across borders, but across generations. Veteran teachers and counselors shared experiences and perspectives with interns and young professionals who hope to serve as peer educators. Authentic discussion between participants offered insight into the efficacy of the Pro Salud methodology. Following a lively debate between youth trainees and their mentors about goal-setting and long-term planning, Patricia Yeargin, a long-time social worker with the Re-engagement Center, shared her renewed understanding of the need to listen deeply, "we want young people to have our values, but we often don't actually hear them."
We want young people to have our values, but we often don't actually hear them.Patricia Yeargin, Social Worker, Re-engagement Center
With the tools from the training, Taylor Joseph, a social work student at Morgan State University and an intern with the Westside YO Center, is ready to bring this innovative reengagement model into her work, “although I am young, I can now relay valuable messages to other people.”
With funding from the (Re)Connecting Youth initiative, youth advocates from the Westside YO Center and the BCPSS Re-engagement Center will integrate the Pro Salud model and train peer facilitators to deliver summer programming to at least 50 Baltimore youth, with the hopes of replication and expansion.
Other participating agencies and local non-profits, including the Baltimore City Health Department, will be adapting the methodologies with continued guidance from (Re)Connecting Youth and Fronteras Unidas Pro Salud, A.C.