Teachers in Training: Mentoring Youth at Risk

The Cause

The Youth at Risk Development Program (YARD) is a community-based early intervention initiative that supports youth who are at risk of gang involvement. YARD works with youth aged 10-17 who are currently at risk, affiliated with a gang or involved in gang activity. Youth participation in YARD is voluntary. YARD teams, consisting of a police officer and a registered social worker, working closely with youth, their families, schools and community agencies. YARD works to develop an individualized case plan that is family centered in order to help youth at risk avoid or escape the gang lifestyle (City of Calgary).
St. Mary’s involvement with the YARD program extends to our Education department, and more specifically to the students of the Bachelor of Education program (BEd). These students are given the opportunity to work as mentors to youth at risk with the YARD program. This not only provides our BEd students with practical experience but also supports a greater need in our community for peer mentors for marginalized and at risk youth.

Who Will it Benefit?

This program not only benefits those youth at risk who participate, but also our Bachelor of Education students who are provided with the opportunity to work as mentors. This experience provides our BEd Students with a unique opportunity to work with a population of youth who would not typically be included in most curriculums. Our students are better prepared for working with students outside of a university class setting and gain valuable communication, and leadership skills. These skills will support their development as educators and as engaged and compassionate citizens. Skills obtained while working as peer mentors are transferable to all classroom settings where the needs and abilities of each individual student will vary extensively.
The youth who participate in this program will benefit in several ways as well. These include decreased gang activity and recruitment, increased ability to make positive and informed decisions, and strengthened relationships between their families, the community, and the police (Calgary Police, 2015). Based on a 2014 study the Calgary police have found that YARD participation led not only to reduced criminal involvement, but also reported that the proportion of clients who identified a positive adult role model that they would like to emulate increased after participation. These role models replaced previous adult role models who were involved in or at risk of involvement in gang or criminal activity. St. Mary’s BEd students’ involvement in this program will provide more youth with positive role models to emulate and look up to. This will have a long-term and sustainable impact on the rates of criminal and gang involvement by at risk youth in our community.