Inspire to Lead

Idea Leader: Ekoo Beck

Location: Missoula, MT

Partner Organization: National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) Missoula

Project Summary: Ekoo Beck, 15, attended a five-day International Leadership for Diversity Institute in Washington DC and returned to Missoula to train freshman at three local high schools on Violence Prevention and Prejudice reduction.  In addition, Ekoo and her fellow planners reached middle and elementary schools by establishing or supporting Respect Clubs and held a Diversity Day Parade.

Instituting Change through Youth Leadership

The progressive shift towards education in the 20th century hit rural states the hardest. Sending kids to school meant losing hardworking hands on the farm or ranch. Montana is one of these states, and although it has developed larger cities in the last hundred years, the rural mentality, and the Wild West mentality of the 20th century has remained, and a drop out crisis has arisen because of it. The increased violence in schools that comes from the 20th century perceptions has only increased the drop-out rates, as school is no longer the safe place for Montana youth to be. Therefore, when Iko’tsimiskimaki “Ekoo” Beck out of Missoula Montana heard about the My Idea grants from America’s Alliance and AT&T, the project Inspire to Lead was born.

The idea of project Inspire to Lead was to utilize the local National Coalition Building Institute’s connections and training experience to give the youth in Missoula Montana the skills to be leaders in their own community and the ability to create less bullying, less violence, and an increased awareness of the diversity present in the schools so that students feel connected and welcomed in their learning environments. The program would incorporate the partnership of Ekoo and NCBI Missoula into the local High Schools, Middle Schools, and Elementary Schools in Missoula Montana.  Project Inspire to Lead received $10,000 to implement their project in its local community, and jumped at the chance to start something big.

With America’s Alliance and AT&T on board, the first item on the agenda was a trip to Washington D.C. to attend NCBI’s international Leadership for Diversity Institute. Under the grant, project leader Ekoo Beck and Nicole Blake (another Missoula youth) were able to attend the five day workshop and take a quick trip to meet the grant givers at America’s Alliance’s offices in downtown D.C. Heidi Wallace, Director of Youth Programs at NCBI Missoula and project leader advisor, also attended the institute with the girls, which gave the three increased leadership skills and a better understanding of the roots of oppression and violence. After the trip, the three were ready to implement the Inspire to Lead project in Missoula.

One issue the leaders soon came across was lack of follow through. After her trip to D.C., Nicole Blake dropped out of the project, only further increasing Ekoo’s commitment to complete what she had started.  The next item on the agenda was the trainings in local high schools. Project Inspire to Lead facilitated Violence Prevention and Prejudice Reduction Training to all freshman in two local high schools, Big Sky and Hellgate, and to a select group of leaders at Willard Alternative High School  reaching a total of 642 students, and utilizing 89 youth leaders, teachers, and community members. With a theme of violence prevention and prejudice reduction, project Inspire to Lead’s Ekoo Beck used her newly gained skills to help lead many of the trainings in the high schools Following each training, the students completed name optional evaluation forms on the pros and cons of the trainings and the impact of the skills they provided. Of the evaluations returned, 76 percent Big Sky high school participants, 90 percent of Hellgate High School participants, and 95 percent Willard High participants, rated the trainings at 4 or 5 out of 5, with 5 meaning “excellent.”

In the comment section some students said: “When you hear the stories of bullying it really opens your eyes. I think more people should get their chance to do this.” And “Best non-bullying workshop ever!  They explain why people do it and how to end it.” Many students also commented positively on the use of peer trainers in the Violence Prevention Prejudice Reduction workshops. One said “I liked it, especially having the other school members helping teach this class.”

At the same time, Respect Club had begun to meet weekly with 30 students in the middle schools. Respect clubs meet with a goal to provide kids with the skills to change a potentially violent situation, and the information to understand oppression and the roots of violence in their local, and global communities. Students have the opportunity to create friendships across group lines and break down stereotypes.   

Project leader Ekoo Beck and project advisor Heidi Wallace in partnership with the Youth Advisory Council led the weekly sessions, and the Building Bridges workshops held for all the students during both the fall and spring semester. One of the highlights of Inspire to Lead’s work with the middle schooler’s was the Respect Clubs’ community outreach project. This year the project was to create a city-wide Diversity Day (a day announced by the city’s major the past year as a part of their efforts) themed “Who’s your Neighbor?” About 200 community members participated in the Diversity Day parade and rally. 

The third level of the Inspire to Lead project involved sixteen 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students at Lowell Elementary school in a four week after-school program modeled after the middle school Respect Club. The goal of the pilot program was to introduce the idea of teachings on oppression and bullying to a younger age group, and hopefully enable it to become a yearlong program. The project was a success. The elementary Respect Club curriculum will be fine-tuned based on what was learned during the pilot program and will be offered as a year-long program partnered through the Flagship program next fall.

By the end of the year project Inspire to Lead impacted more than 700 students in the Missoula area, and utilized more than a hundred young people, educators and community members in the leadership process. A main challenge project Inspire to Lead faced was working with the academic schedules and priorities of the different high schools. In the future the Inspire to Lead leaders will continue to work closely with the school administration to produce the most impactful environments for the trainings. Project Inspire to Lead found incredible support and interest in its community, and inspired students to take on new leadership roles within their school community:

  • Project leader Ekoo Beck was featured on Native Calling, a national radio station on her project
  • Tyler Tschida (a local teen and new leader) and Ekoo Beck were featured on a local talk show “Viewpoint”
  • Ekoo Beck and Nicole Blake were featured on the KPAX Western Montana News Station
  • the Respect Club, with the help of the Youth Advisory Council, created posters, flyers, stickers, t-shirts and TV and radio advertisements for Diversity Day

The goal of project Inspire to Lead was to create a safe school environment that is vital for a successful educational experience. 95 percent of the high school training participants believe that the concepts and skills taught in project Inspire to Lead and NCBI’s Violence Prevention and Prejudice Reduction Trainings will help them to build safer and more inclusive schools, allowing for a successful education.

Project Leader Ekoo Beck said “I believe we fulfilled our goal. We provided the youth community of Missoula both the opportunity to learn new skills, and the opportunity to make change in their schools. The energy of the trainings is incredible. The students are finally figuring out what needs to be done to provide a safe and welcoming environment for students. I see the youth at trainings and in the clubs cross group lines and find common ground in both the pain that bullying has caused, and their ability and drive to prevent others from feeling it. I know that by creating this environment, we are allowing for students to stay in schools, and to further broaden their education about both school subjects, and stigmas in our society at large.”

National Coalition Building Institute-Missoula (www.ncbimissoula.orgis) dedicated to moving individuals, organizations, and communities toward a more just and inclusive society.