Youth Empowerment Project

Youth Empowerment Mission Benefit Dance

Thurmont Middle School (TMS), 7th grade language arts students, Frederick County, Lori Sanders 

Students read a non-fiction article entitled “Gang Girl” by Isis Sapp-Grant from the seventh grade language arts textbook. They completed activities which support the Frederick County Public School (FCPS) curriculum using the information they learned about the violent culture of gang life. Students were interested in learning more about Isis Sapp-Grant’s Youth Empowerment Mission, a New York City program to keep children out of gangs and in school. The language arts classes browsed the website and read several testimonies from girls who had escaped gangs through the Blossom Program. As a result of this research, TMS students had a strong desire to raise money to donate to Ms. Grant’s Youth Empowerment Mission Blossom Program. In conjunction with a writing assignment, students composed email letters to Ms. Grant. Besides informing her that they had read her story and studied the culture of gangs through her experience, they also asked how they could contribute to her program. The seventh grade decided to hold a dance to raise money. They organized volunteer chaperones, DJ, dance prizes and food/drink donations. Their goal was to raise $600, but they actually raised well over $1,000. This money was used by the Blossom Program to purchase two new computers. Students reflected on these experiences several times throughout the project.

Best Practice 1: What recognized community need was met by your project (e.g. health, education, environmental or public safety need)?

Our language arts classes researched the Youth Empowerment Mission headed by Isis Sapp-Grant on the Internet. This is a non-profit organization, and funds are needed year-round to support the program. Specifically, New York City adolescent girls in the Stuyvescent neighborhood benefited from the computers purchased by TMS students. This neighborhood is one of the most dangerous areas of New York City, as well as in the nation. Our TMS students also benefited from this project for they were shown that even at 12 years old, they can make a difference in the world and bring about change.

Best Practice 2: How was the project connected to school curriculum (e.g. what course outcomes were met and/or how did the project reinforce or enhance student academic learning)?

Information from articles and the United Streaming video clips was used to meet the following indicators from FCPS Curriculum:
  • Compare and contrast with prior knowledge as well as each other.
  • Draw inferences from the information and act upon it.
  • Explain the usefulness of information.
  • Write emails to Isis Sapp-Grant to ask specific questions about her former gang life, the people who helped her escape the gang and how they could help her make a difference in the lives of New York City youth.
  • Language Usage indicators were met in students’ letter writing.

Best Practice 3: How did you reflect on your experience throughout the project?

Students reflected through discussion and a class questionnaire presented after the dance fundraiser to encourage students to think about their involvement in this project, its impact, and the way taking part in it would affect them in the future.

Best Practice 4: How did students take leadership roles and take responsibility for the success of the project?

Students took leadership by organizing a fundraising dance and finding volunteers to donate time, food, drinks, tickets, prizes and DJ equipment/services.

Best Practice 5: What community partners did you work with on this project (e.g. non-profits, civic organizations, business that provided donations, etc.)?

Thurmont Middle School students and parents were involved in this project as well as the Youth Empowerment Mission and Isis Sapp-Grant herself, who wrote several emails and a thank-you letter to the students. She has also expressed a desire to visit Thurmont Middle School during an upcoming school year.

Best Practice 6: How did you prepare and plan ahead for the project?

I planned with 7th grade language arts team members in developing the lessons involved in our Family Dynamics unit. This unit includes using “Gang Girl” to discuss how gangs offer some youth the only sense of family they have ever had. Our lessons included analysis of how culture and ethnicity affect the theme of a text. The classes’ ideas led me to plan for the email writing assignment and subsequent fundraising dance with the help of the students since this portion was student-generated. We had to access the Internet, find United Streaming video clips on gang life, design tickets, create reflection sheets and coordinate schedules so that all students could attend.

Best Practice 7: What knowledge and skills did students develop through this project?

The students became more aware of the problem of violence, homelessness, and lack of parental guidance for children their own age who are living not that far from our area, learned to compare and contrast information, make inferences, write better letters, and most importantly, realize that they could make a difference in our world. They learned empathy and compassion and generosity, which are as important as any curricular indicator for it helps them become good human beings.