Students at Yorktown High School are finding new ways to help classmates and their community through leadership and outreach training.
Yorktown's new Center for Leadership and Public Service, a program begun this year with the help of the Arlington School Board and the county's Department of Human Resources, gives students the chance to learn how they can get involved in helping their community and the school.
Housed in a special room, the center is designed to give student groups a place to coordinate service work and to give students the chance to learn about service opportunities. Much of the outreach work is aimed at Yorktown students, such as HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns, peer mediation initiatives and special workshops.
The idea of the center is all about students helping students, said Stephanie Meadows, who directs the center.
"Students will listen to their peers more than they will to teachers," Meadows said.
THROUGH YORKTOWN'S OUTREACH programs and the county, students are being trained in how to raise HIV/AIDS awareness among their classmates as part of NOVAM, the Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry. After a short training program, students are assigned to hand out literature on HIV/AIDS and conduct educational seminars to raise awareness.
"A lot of kids in high school are unaware of how bad the epidemic is getting and we just want them to understand of the risks," said Molly Leutdecker, 17.
Yorktown students are also engaged in a suicide prevention program, "SOS: Signs of Suicide."
The latest event Yorktown's young leaders are organizing is ROCS Fest, a day-long program centered around a different social issue each year.
"We'll break all 1,600 of our students into groups and we'll have our students facilitate different workshops," Meadows said, of ROCS, which stands for "Respect for Others, Community and Self."
Last year's ROCS Fest was focused on race and diversity issues. This year's subject is communication.
"We're the only high school I know of that does something like that, having a whole day devoted to better ways to communicate and get along," said Roshan Tiwair, a Yorktown senior. "It's a significant part of our high school."
PREVENTING VIOLENCE and improving the social attitudes of students is another focus of the center's core of volunteers. A significant part of that is peer mediation. Through the center, students have been trained in mediation techniques and sent out into the student body to intercept conflicts before the escalate.
"If there's a fight or students are arguing with each other, peer mediators come, sit down and try to resolve the issue peacefully so there can be an end conclusion," said Yorktown senior Amy Wilcox.
The center has also spawned a new group of student activists, "Activists Against Apathy," who have turned their attention to teen social issues, such as depression and eating disorders.
"We're just trying to get students aware about social issues," said Leutdecker, who has also volunteered on many other projects. "There are so many different aspects of being a teenager. It's the age when people start forming their opinions about the world, and we do these things so people can be more educated when they are doing that. It's just a better environment when people are more knowledgeable about what's going on."
And, AAA is student-driven. Even the name comes from the student body.
"We realized that just having the students involved in outreach think of programs was a little hard and we wanted the whole school to be involved," said Wilcox.
Through an initiative called Healthy Relationships, student leaders are also training students on how to spot risky behaviors in their partners and even what to do in cases of rape.
THE RESOURCE CENTER was created with the idea that it is common ground for both students and teachers, an informal setting where ideas are exchanged with a kind of mutual respect, according to Meadows. Students even call their teachers by their first names.
"It's for the students," Meadows said. "Some of the students come here to think up concepts for outreach. They'll come in during their lunches and after school. It's really a place that's student friendly."
Many of the students get involved in outreach work through a class during their senior year that deals primarily with community service work, entitled, "Diversity and Outreach."
The center also helps to find service oriented internships for students, Meadows said.
Yorktown senior Emily Scott said the ideas that come out of the center are helping to reshape the atmosphere at Yorktown in a positive way.
"This room is a really good launch pad for all of these programs," Scott said. "In the past, Yorktown's outreach had been really confined to a few people and not many know about what was available. When I was a freshman, I didn't know where to go to ask how to get involved in this type of thing."