Blog by Angela Ahbez-Anderson, Board President of the Asbury Park School District & Vice Chairperson of the Asbury Park Democratic Committee (District 5).
We met Angela at the Creative Asbury Park Call to Collaboration in January, 2017. During the course of those two days, she had the opportunity to meet other community members who, like her, were interested in finding new ways to re-engage the disengaged youth in Asbury Park. Angela kept the conversation going and this summer she enlisted the support of the Asbury Park Recreation Commission to start the I Believe in Me Youth Mentorship Program.
In this blog, Angela shares with us the main challenges she encountered during the implementation of the pilot program and how she gathered the support she needed from the Asbury Park School District to be able to continue offering I Believe In Me as an afterschool program during the next year.
The Asbury Park Recreation Commission, is always in search of new programs and ideas that will serve our youth. As a commission member, I’m particularly interested in those youth who have aged out of our summer recreation programs. They are between the ages of 14 -16, who lack work experience, and are often overlooked in the hiring process due to their age. They are also the most vulnerable group of youth who may become academically disengaged.
With this concern in mind, the commission members decided to meet and discussed the idea of creating a program that would address these needs. After brainstorming, we decided to focus on developing a program that addresses the lack of girl centered programs in grades 6 – 12. We agreed to develop a city-wide mentoring program that would empower girls to use their voice, build their leadership skills, and self-confidence, and seek to partner with the Asbury Park School District to work on this project together. As a result the Asbury Park Recreation Commission sponsored the I Believe in Me Mentorship Program. Here’s what led this program to where it is now:
In January 2017 I attended the Creative Asbury Park Call to Collaboration. It was a powerful two-day session. Leaders from religious groups, non-profits, for-profits, agencies, and organizations were sharing, networking and collaborating on topics of interest to them. After the initial introductions, we were directed to form groups specific to our interest which lead to 39 breakout sessions. I facilitated one of those sessions and 30 plus participants joined me to discuss empowering today’s youth. I asked a simple question: how do we re-engage our disengaged youth? Silence fell over the room and I felt very uncomfortable, as if I had asked a stupid question. Finally, silence was broken by a soft voice. I eagerly wrote her response on the white board. Then I heard another voice and as the conversation progressed I became more comfortable in my role as more people participated.
What I learned that day was there is tremendous concern for our youth but many of us are mystified as to how to re-engage them. From the group’s responses I got that many of us who are working with youth are using yesteryear programs and systems that unfortunately youth are not responding to. Most programs offered are program-centric or teacher-centered instead of being student-centered. For example, several months ago I was one of several speakers and the last to present to a group of high schoolers. As I entered the room looking at my captive audience, their facial expressions said it all, BOREDOM! It wasn’t because the previous speakers were boring, it was because these youth had seen those charts and overheads before and they have heard the same language throughout middle school.
I began with a simple statement: “this is going to be short, to the point and all about you.” Eyes raised up, some sat up and I continued by asking them to tell me something about themselves. At the end of the workshop I asked them to complete the facilitator evaluation form and the major complaint was that the session was too short! That was great news, but what was more exciting was that they said they enjoyed the workshop because it gave them the opportunity to discover their purpose, their strengths, and now they had a better understanding of who they are.
I was excited to watch the students engaged in my activities while learning about themselves. I realized that when they are disengaged they are not learning, which can lead to behavior issues. So at home in the late hours of the night, I researched engaging youth and I confirmed what I had concluded before: many youth are dealing with negative social and emotional baggage which can lead to disengagement in the classroom and creates behavior issues.
I asked myself what if there was a student-centered mentoring program that would address these struggles? A program that could teach them how to collaborate and build their leadership and communication skills. What if we could teach students to believe in themselves simply by helping them to discover who they are? What if we could partner with The Asbury Park School District which was implementing social and emotional interventions and strategies in the classroom?
I wrote out an outline and titled it “I Believe in Me.” I contacted my Recreation Commission, and Councilman Jessie Kendle who chairs the Commission. We discussed it and decided to launch the I Believe in Me program for an 8 week summer test drive. Now the odds were against us, we didn’t have a captive audience, it was summer, some students were employed, we had competition and the program met every Friday at 5 p.m. However, we were determined and had defined the program as successful if only one student completed the entire 8 weeks. The first week of registration was a nail biter, we had no students. Week two we had one, week three we had three students and as the weeks progressed we had three more! The program was a success! Two students had completed the program in its entirety! The best news for me was hearing that the girls wanted to know if the program was going to continue during the school year because they wanted to participate!
The Commission and I believe that this is the missing link in education. I approached the Superintendent of Schools in Asbury Park, Dr. Lamont Repollet, and asked him if he would be interested in I Believe in Me as an after-school program. The magic word I heard was YES! Beginning this October, in partnership with the Asbury Park Recreation Commission who is sponsoring the program, I Believe in Me will be offered to girls in grades 6 – 12!
The I Believe in Me mentorship program culminates in an oratorical pageant in June. All girls who choose to participate and who successfully complete the program will be eligible to showcase their oratorical skills to an audience of family and friends.
Anyone interested in assisting may contact me directly by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angela is no stranger to the news and entertainment industry, having spent 25 years as the voice for radio, television, cable and print commercials. Angela’s experience as a television News Anchor, Reporter, Producer, Writer, Editor, and Speaker/Facilitator provides the perfect foundation for her public speaking and mentoring programs.
Passionate about empowering girls and women, Angela has developed personal development programs that challenges each teen girl or woman to discover her unique strengths so that she can fulfill her potential. At the conclusion of the program every participant is more confident and effectively capable of articulating her message.
Angela is the current Board President of the Asbury Park School District, Vice Chairperson of the Asbury Park Democratic Committee (District 5), Founder of the I Believe in Me Mentorship Program, Rebuilding Me, Eloquent Charismatic Orators and Seductively Speaking. She is a freelance writer for Blog Her, She Knows and the current voice for several on-air commercials.