Phillips Brooks House Association: Training for Critical Thinking – Aligning Staff Development with Creative Curricula

This post is part of a series about the workshop presentations delivered at the ACT Skills Summit.

Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) serves 850 youth from grades K-12. Twenty percent of the youth served at the program are recent immigrants, and PBHA uses neighborhood-based recruitment efforts. PBHA’s 25 program directors and senior counselors are all college students, and they also recruit high school students to serve as junior counselors at their program locations. On June 5, at the ACT Skills Summit, PBHA presented on strategies to intentionally train program staff – who are in many cases first-time youth development workers – to teach, promote and sustain the Achieve skills critical thinking and creativity.

Jesse Leavitt, Manager of Student Development and Evaluation, and Karina Buruca, Co-Director of Franklin Afterschool Enrichment, led attendees through a series of activities to help them develop intentional staff training in curriculum design that:

  • Aligns to the core values of their program
  • Capitalizes on the strengths and motivation of their staff
  • Affirms the identity of staff, youth, and their community

PBHA’s Summer Urban Program curriculum, for example, focuses on social justice, critical thinking, and creative expression. To train staff to design lessons that meet these goals, PBHA builds on the fundamentals of working with youth with conversations about identity (of staff, youth, and their community) and training on effective strategies for social-emotional learning including youth-centered decision making, self-expression and community responsibility. They culminate with teaching their staff about project-based learning, and how the projects’ outcomes should matter to the youth and their community, and should draw from student and educator passions.

The presenters and attendees of the breakout session stressed the importance of encouraging staff to design curricula that draws from their own identity, experience, and learning. So that “instead of teaching [critical thinking], you’re embodying it,” said one attendee. Additionally, curriculum is strengthened by building on the routines of the program and the context of students’ experience in their community. PBHA provided several examples of this including a partnership between two programs that recruit from neighborhoods with a history of tension. Youth from these sites collaborated on a song set to “Where is the Love?” by the Black-Eyed Peas:

Keylatch and Mission fighting for peace

And violence is what we have to defeat.

Working together as two neighborhoods

Our street are safe and our hearts are good.

Materials from all of the workshops at the ACT Skills Summit can be found here.