A Holistic Approach to Youth Development

We know that exposure to violence makes young people more likely to become violent themselves. So, how can we disrupt that cycle? How do we encourage students down another path? 

As it turns out, meditation helps.

“We had a student from last year who said he would have killed someone if it wasn’t for this class,” said Antonio Stovall. He is the instructor for TAP’s African American Culture and Contemporary Issues class at William Fleming High School. The class builds identity, cultural awareness, and self-empowerment among Black students at Fleming. Meditation and mindfulness techniques play a big role in the class.   

“We are noticing a big difference in how students are interacting with their community, with their classmates,” says Antonio. “They feel more grounded, they have more self-value and self-respect.”

Nature Experiences

TAP pairs this foundation of mindfulness with other experiences that encourage violence-free, productive futures. For example, we get them out into nature.

The students in Antonio’s class and in all of our youth programs often come from households or neighborhoods where they see violence or may even be involved in it. “They deal with a lot of stress, depression, and hardship,” says Antonio. By taking them out of the city to experience nature, “they get an opportunity to detach from their home situation and get back in tune with themselves.”

Brighter Futures

Athletics can also provide a fruitful platform for reaching young people. Recognizing the importance of coaches in the lives of youth, we partner with the coaches in school athletic programs to deliver messages of non-violence and violence prevention.

Djuan Hankins, a longtime basketball coach in the Roanoke community who works with our youth programs, describes how TAP tries to propel students toward a brighter future. “I ask them what their plan is in life, what kind of working career they want, what kind of opportunities they want to be able to provide for themselves after high school,” he says.

Then, TAP helps them get there. College access has long been an important theme in TAP’s youth programs: we provide disadvantaged students with everything from SAT waivers to campus tour trips. Students have described this part of their journey as opening their eyes to college and all the steps on the path to get there.

Summer Programming

Keeping students occupied in the summer with productive pursuits is also an important element of TAP’s holistic strategy. This past summer we offered programming that included fun activities like skating and bowling, as well as daily mindfulness exercises and learning experiences including a STEM workshop from Virginia Tech. Another highlight was a series of four workshops taught by Trifecta, Inc., a youth empowerment organization. These workshops provided opportunities for artistic self-expression, including poetry and painting.

At the end of the summer, the students asked excitedly when TAP’s next activity would be. It’s no wonder that this fall, when classes started at William Fleming, we were overrun with students wanting to take the African American Culture and Contemporary Issues class.

“Now we’re seeing they’re more focused on the [teaching] and not on their phones. They want to learn, engage, and be successful,” says Djuan. “They are learning something that will carry a long ways in life.”