Youth Profile in Action

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 dropout crisis has arisen because of it. The increased violence in schools that comes from the 20th century perceptions has only increased the dropout 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 Promise 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 be implemented in the local community, and Beck jumped at the chance to start something big.

Project Inspire to Lead facilitated Violence Prevention and Prejudice Reduction Training to all freshmen 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 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 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 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. 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.