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Home > Blog > How to inspire "at risk" 9th graders?
Out of Our Minds
Wednesday, July 12, 2006 4:33 PM
How to inspire "at risk" 9th graders?
Curt Rosengren on Making a Difference

Recently I got the following e-mail requesting any insights I might have to share:

"I am a police sgt and have served "passionately" for 25 years.  I am speaking to a group of 9th grade students who are in a program designed by us to help them with their entrance into High School.  Many of these kids are challenged socially, academically and have had small problems with the law.  

What would you suggest I could speak to them about when I try to get them to be interested in a job or college after school?  How can I stir up their passion and get them excited about it?"

I have some ideas of my own, but this seems like one of those things that would really benefit from multiple people's perspectives (I'm convinced that the cumulative insight and advice all of you have to offer is waaaayyy better than any advice I can offer just by myself). So let me throw it out to you - what would you tell these 9th graders? 


gl hoffman - 7/20/2006 10:31:58 AM
This age group can smell phonies in less time than they get their ipods to shuffle play. They are bombarded with advertising messages and detest being lectured to. To get on their good side, be yourself and make sure you don't just talk about WHAT but talk about WHY as well. There is a good reason they are called Generation WHY.
Minneapolis, MN
patti - 7/17/2006 1:37:42 PM
thanks much for the advice, that is pretty much what I did - you all had great information! Unfortunately I taught this a.m. but had used all of your advice.

Especially the listen one!
Julie - 7/16/2006 10:54:19 PM
9th graders meeting with an adult authority figure like a police sargeant will expect to be lectured. The savvy ones will expect to be lectured in a way that inspires them. The best way to reach teens is through stories. I'd suggest thinking of the one or two points you want to make, and then try to tell as many real life stories as you can to make the points come alive.
Janet Auty-Carlisle - 7/15/2006 2:18:46 PM
I do work with at risk youth occasionally. It's free and it's coaching. They have to attend if they want to have a place to stay...(lucky me.) However, that said, they always go away inspired. I do what has already been mentioned. We tap into what made them happy at one point in their lives as kids. (don't forget these kids have tough lives..not all of it good..so it's hard to find a "happy place" sometimes.) Then we expand from there. So one kid might say something like "Well I really liked it when I went with my mom one time and got to go to a campground." So, what did they like about it? Was it being outside? Was it the animals? Was it the freedom of moving about fairly easily with not too many people around? Another one might say they liked spending time reading. So, what kind of job could that look like? Researcher? Writer? Editor? Proof -reader.....etc. It can be tough to find something that made them feel good but so far I've been pretty successful. Good luck and, like the rest of this profoundly sage group has said...keep your mouth closed and your eyes open. Watch and listen. "God gave us two ears and one mouth" so that we could listen more and talk less. Living la vida fearless, Jan
Kevin - 7/13/2006 10:26:35 AM
I am really glad that DK weighed in on this. His firm specialized in research on the youth market and does it very well. Thanks DK.
jt - 7/13/2006 7:53:56 AM
truthfully -- it's hard work coming into a setting like that and knowing about what these teens are passionate. Learning what gets students (anyone) excited and bouncing off that takes time. so my advice would be this: don't make this one trip the only trip. make it the first one and do a lot more listening than talking (as DK said). take what you've heard back with you, reflect on, stew on it, chew on it and then plan to come back for more. Show those kids you trust them and that they have value to you. If they don't believe you believe that, it'll be hard to get anywhere interesting.
DK - 7/13/2006 3:43:41 AM
From my experience with young people, the way to get them passionate and excited about their futures is not to mentions jobs or careers but to tap into what they are already passionate about - be it sports, art, the web etc.

Failing that, keep it simple:

Listen, don’t talk
Show, don’t tell
Empower, don’t belittle

Good luck

Gary Rixman - 7/12/2006 9:53:17 PM
I think it's hard not to sound preachy and pedantic to 9th graders, but I would circle back around to something Anita wrote in one of her Editor's Letters: Remember how when you were little, you would pretend you were doing work -- as a fireman or teacher or cook? You have the chance to do those things for work. Just apply yourself, don't get in too much trouble and you can get PAID to do those things.

Will it work? I don't know,, but it sounds like an inspiring idea to me.


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