By Amalia Kalisz Tonsor Of The Labs @ Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
The Labs @ Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh are always looking for ways to support youth leadership. What are the structures you need to have in place to get youth to engage deeply and authentically? How can you deepen their engagement and design pathways for youth leadership?
We are daily striving to develop youth leadership in our spaces in informal ways, as well as through more intentional roles in long-term projects, events and volunteer opportunities. As students come to demonstrate a sense of belonging in our spaces, we continue to look for ways to center their leadership. We are actively working to find best practices for centering students in the design and implementation of programs, in fostering peer mentorship, in encouraging self expression and media creation, and in building community partnerships with the goal of more student agency within and beyond the Library.
This year we set out to up our commitment to youth leadership and for the first time created paid youth positions and stipends for program participants as an integral part of the design for our Summer Skill Intensive programs. Made possible by a grant through the YOUmedia Network, these programs attempted a holistic growth spurt further into connected learning by deepening focused exploration of skills and content, prioritizing financial support and relevant mentorship, centering student leadership and collaboration, and building community partnerships and connections.
In order to develop paid youth positions and participant stipends at the Labs sites, The Labs program manager worked alongside our Teen Services Coordinator to have these new processes approved by the administration. With research and supporting documentation from other library institutions who have paid teens in programming, we were successful at outlining the need and potential benefits of these designs. The Labs Mentors then developed and coordinated an outreach, interview and hiring process for paid Teen Mentors and a participant application and selection process for the program. The outreach and hiring phase involved staff from outside organizations partnering with us on the summer intensive programs, as well as interested staff at our program sites, including Teen Specialists and branch managers.
The Labs Mentors worked closely with the hired Teen Mentors to develop roles and projects within the intensive programs that fit with the teens’ strengths and learning goals. The Teen Mentors were an integrated part of the program staff and met with both Labs staff and community partners to develop their projects and help plan and prepare for the program. They were responsible for various peer mentorship and facilitation roles during the week of the program, as well as wrap up and post production work following the intensive week, including producing video documentation of the program and hosting in-house performance events to showcase student work.
Participants in the program committed to a week-long, focused workshop and received compensation and appreciation for their time and effort. They built relationships with a like-minded group, tried new things and created advanced and thoughtful projects that were shared in various online, performative and exhibition spaces. The students in the intensive programs have formed new networks as artists and leaders, both inside the Library and out. The feedback we received from students emphasized increased confidence, new social and creative connections, and appreciation for the opportunity to focus on their creative expression and technical abilities. Their evaluations reinforced that they would like to continue to have more space and access to do this advanced learning and to deepen their work. Our goal going forward is to better address that need throughout the school year. How can we integrate these youth into continuing leadership roles at the Library? The need to focus on creating pathways for youth leadership development as a means of structuring and sustaining our programming year-round becomes ever more important.