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Global Youth Service Day 2016 Project Report, Sheryl Zukowski, 5/2/2016

(rev. 8/2016)

Project Description

Michigan Nonprofit Association collaborated with the Refugee Development Center of Lansing, MI to
paint murals in the interior of Gardner Law, Leadership, and Government Academy, of the Lansing Public
School District, on April 13, 2016. This project was supported by Michigan Nonprofit Association in
fulfillment of its responsibilities as a Youth Service America lead agency. The main goal of the project
was to help refugee youth connect with their community and school through youth leadership.
The project was conceived and led by middle-school students of the Newcomers Soccer Team and SOAR
program, two youth programs run by the Refugee Development Center. Adult and college-age
volunteers acted as mentors to youth painter teams. College-age volunteers were recruited from
Michigan State University and Refugee Development Center, and adult volunteers came from Michigan
Nonprofit Association, Gardner Academy faculty, and Refugee Development Center staff. The project
included 33 middle-school volunteers, 8 college-age volunteers, and 13 adult volunteers, for a total 122
volunteer hours served. The 33 middle-schoolers fit the category of Youth Not Traditionally Asked to
Serve.
Students painted two hallways within the school. The murals depicted flags and images relating to
countries that Gardner students found interesting, whether as study topics or countries of origin. The
murals were designed and painted by the students, utilizing images selected, projected, and drawn by
students. The students began to plan this project during after-school sessions earlier in the school year.
During the period supported by Youth Service America and Michigan Nonprofit Association (March-April
2016), students cleaned and primed the hallways and did background painting for the murals over 4
weeks of bi-weekly after-school meetings. On the official project day of April 13, 2016, youth painter
teams spent 2 hours painting the murals with their adult mentors.
Adult program leaders initiated the project with the idea that refugee youth would feel less isolation if
they could be leaders in school projects and represent their perspectives in school activities. The
organizers interest in youth leadership was informed by recent educational research regarding refugee
youth, Youth Not Traditionally Asked to Serve, and Youth Voice. The student leadership of the project
also correlated with the existing curricular objectives of the school, helping students and staff to meet
the goals of Gardners leadership curriculum, The Leader in Me.

Global Youth Service Day 2016 Project Report, Sheryl Zukowski, 5/2/2016

(rev. 8/2016)

About Gardner Academy: Gardner is a public magnet school in which 79% of students qualify for foodrelated services. The Gardner Academy building serves both elementary and middle-school students.
The State of Michigan has identified Gardner as a Focus School, meaning that tests show a high
achievement gap between highest- and lowest-scoring students.
About Refugee Development Center: RDC serves the needs of newly-arrived refugees in mid-Michigan
and Lansing, a Midwestern hub for refugee resettlement. The Center provides ESOL classes, youth
programs, and advocacy to a refugee community estimated to be as large as 13,000. Among its clients
are Afghans, Bosnians, Burmese, Bhutanese, Burundians, Congolese (DR and Brazzaville), Croats,
Cubans, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Hmong, Iranians, Iraqis, Kurds, Liberians, Meskhetian Turks, Somali, Bantu
Somali, Sudanese, and Vietnamese, along with small numbers from many other countries around the
world.

Impact upon youth


The primary goals of this project were psychological and educational in nature. The goals of improving
the visual appearance of the school and engaging the students in visual arts, likewise, were among the
objectives. Much of the psychological and educational impact of the project came from the students
work process as they planned and designed the improvements. This activity, therefore, broadened the
event from an arts project to a multi-disciplinary experience that developed multiple intelligences.
While formal assessment relating to psychological impact naturally is not possible in a project of this
limited scope, many of the practices incorporated in this project are supported by academic studies as
having demonstrable impact upon resettled youth in other contexts. I believe that comparable impact
in this project may be inferred. These educational best practices are as follows:

Visual impact: The hallway murals gave new visual interest and variation to the everyday working
environment for the 904 students who attend the school. The Gardner building is dated and decor
projects are regarded as non-essential due to budget limitations. Given these budget limitations, a
decor initiative could be realized only with external funding of the sort provided by Youth Service
America. The attention to decor sent the message the students deserved a lively, enjoyable
environment that is conducive to education, no less than students at a higher-budget school. Increased
student pride in the school was reflected in an interview with student Fifi Uwase, who said we made
the school more pretty and fancy, and we made it beautiful (Brown-Binion, 2016).

Global Youth Service Day 2016 Project Report, Sheryl Zukowski, 5/2/2016

(rev. 8/2016)

Youth Not Traditionally Asked to Serve. Refugee student leadership was central to the project, in
keeping with recent scholarship that documents the benefits of youth leadership within the education of
refugee and immigrant youth (Shadduck-Hernandez, 2006; Lpez, 2015; Youth Service America; Stewart,
2015; Sarr & Mosselson, 2010; McBrien, 2005). Refugee youth should not merely be included in school
and local activities, but rather should play an active role in decision-making and organizing. This active
involvement is thought to decrease the isolation and alienation often reported by resettled youth, and
to provide a greater sense of security psychologically to youth whose lives have been marked by
unpredictability and loss of control over life decisions. This increased sense of identification with school
and community is described by student Ken Dagadu: we want our flags on the wall because we want to
make our school better for our population like we belong here and we fit in and our school respect our
country and culture (Brown-Binion, 2016).

Youth Voice. Youth projects necessarily must involve a balance of youth and adult leadership; the
particular balance sought by organizers for this project was chosen to provide maximum benefit for the
educational and social needs of the refugee youth. Adult leaders sought a hands-on project for the
youth that would allow students to be involved at all stages of the work. For this project, that meant
that the artwork would be done by the youth, rather than a professional artist commissioned through a
more bureaucratic process. The final result naturally showed rougher artistic quality than professional
work, but youth were able to retain their close engagement. Youth also had a high level of involvement
in making decisions about and coordinating this project. They chose the mural project after having their
program leader, Bruce Winters, lead discussion of the value of public service and propose that the
soccer team lead a project during the off-season. They planned the project within after-school sessions
over the course of several months, which helped them understand how much time it takes to organize
an initiative and helped them learn patience, responsibility and discipline. Youth also were able to have
accountability for miscalculations in work or planning: work still unfinished after the main project day
would have to be completed by youth during the remainder of the school year.

Adult Mentoring. Involvement of adults from the community was central to this project, and it is a
component cited by researchers as a best practice in supporting resettled youth (Schmidt, Morland, &
Rose, 2006 rev. 2009; Mthethwa-Sommers & Kisiara, 2015). Relations among students can be stressful
for refugee youth due to language barriers and high incidence of bullying. Refugee youth report that
they view increased adult involvement as a measure that would improve these problems, particularly in
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Global Youth Service Day 2016 Project Report, Sheryl Zukowski, 5/2/2016

(rev. 8/2016)

the areas of conflict resolution and restorative justice. This project provided supervision of the middleschool students at a ratio of about 1 college student or adult to every 2 youth, allowing for this
increased involvement. This ratio also allowed adult to mentor the youth in leadership skills like
teamwork and responsibility.
Co-Curricular Integration. School leaders, as well as many researchers, tend to value youth service
projects more highly when the projects are part of the curricular and institutional objectives that leaders
already have set for the students. This way, concepts are reinforced and the learning time of the
students is maximized. This project was integrated with the schools curricular objectives for youth
leadership. Gardner Academy is a themed magnet school oriented around the subject of public service,
so that youth leadership projects are particularly central to the schools agenda even if a project is not
tied directly into classroom instruction. This project counts towards fulfillment of the goals of the
schools leadership program, The Leader in Me (produced by FranklinCovey Education Co.), satisfying
requirements for service and for creation of a dynamic work environment (Covey, Summers, and Hatch,
2014). This project is part of Gardners strategy to qualify as a Lighthouse School, a designation
awarded by FranklinCovey to participating institutions that show merit at the highest level nationally.
Multiple Intelligences. Educational researchers accord high value to programs that encourage students
to develop multiple intelligences and learning paths (Gardner, 1983). The Newcomers soccer program
at Refugee Development Center already was a multidisciplinary program before the period supported by
Youth Service America, combining soccer with after-school tutoring in language arts for ESOL students.
The mini-grant from Youth Service America allowed program leader Bruce Winters to expand the
program to include a service component, an expansion that would be possible only under an external
grant due to budgetary constraint. Similar three-part programs that combine soccer, language arts, and
service have gained respect and national popularity in recent years. One such program, America Scores,
reports that its combination of soccer, service, and poetry has resulted in solid gains in testing for its
participants (America SCORES, 2016). The Newcomers soccer program is somewhat different from
America Scores in that its language component is more basic, in response to the needs of ESOL and
refugee students. Nevertheless, due to the success reported by America Scores, I believe that the
Newcomers program also could have strong impact.

Global Youth Service Day 2016 Project Report, Sheryl Zukowski, 5/2/2016

(rev. 8/2016)

Populations not traditionally asked to serve


As refugee and immigrant youth, the 33 middle-school students of the Newcomers and SOAR programs
can be classified as Youth Not Traditionally Asked to Serve (YNTATS). Refugee youth traditionally have
not been included within service projects because some are new learners of English. Some also may
have educational and social needs somewhat different from their peers owing to interrupted education,
cultural differences, or experience with trauma. We were able to build a project with this student
population despite these challenges by making small adjustments to a conventional Global Youth Service
Day project design in order to better accommodate their needs.

First, we partnered with a respected local organization that is professionally experienced with this youth
population, rather than working only from within our own organization. The Newcomers Soccer and
SOAR programs already were established programs with knowledgeable staff who had worked with the
youth extensively. Michigan Nonprofit Association supported their leadership, facilitating the project
with financial support, administrative support, and volunteers.

In planning the project with Refugee Development Center, we agreed to requests made by its youth
program leaders to revise our initial project design in response to student needs. For example, while
Global Youth Service Day projects traditionally are held on the designated weekend, a weekend event
would require additional funding for meal services and transportation for this population of students.
While these services usually can be provided by middle-class parents, refugee parents are less likely to
have drivers licenses and more likely to qualify for nutritional assistance programs. By holding the
event on a Wednesday after school, we were able to leverage the school districts resources for food
and transportation. Students had an after-school dinner, access to water during the event, and school
bus transport at no expense to Youth Service America or Michigan Nonprofit Association.

Likewise, we agreed to program leaders request that the project be kept to a limited size. Some
refugee youth still may be adjusting to American behavioral customs (waiting in line, engaging with
teachers, etc.) and some may experience behavior challenges relating to trauma or frequent moves. For
this reason, close adult supervision and a high ratio of adults per child is desirable for work with refugee
youth. While our original intent was to recruit more student volunteers from the middle school, we
agreed to keep the youth numbers smaller at the request of program leaders.

Global Youth Service Day 2016 Project Report, Sheryl Zukowski, 5/2/2016

(rev. 8/2016)

It also was necessary to respect the needs of refugee youth regarding privacy and media coverage. A
number of the refugee families had a standing request for restrictions on photography, on grounds of
cultural values or security. Official photography of the event was provided by a Refugee Development
Center volunteer, and photos were released only if parents had given permission. Michigan Nonprofit
Association volunteers complied with a request to refrain from taking photos of the event. Media
coverage was limited to print media. There was no public recruitment of adult volunteers, also at the
request of project leaders. Adult volunteer recruitment was limited to Michigan Nonprofit Association
employees, and all volunteers underwent background checks.

As the coordinator of this event for Michigan Nonprofit Association, I prepared for this project by
reading extensively in educational research relating to refugee youth, Youth Not Traditionally Asked to
Serve, and Youth Voice. I consider learning about new volunteer populations to be a necessary early
step within the process of engaging them. Through this preparation I was better able to understand
what components are considered best practices in working with this population, so that I could make
effective judgments about partnerships and project design. So that volunteers could prepare
themselves for the event, I provided some links to introductory material about refugee youth that they
could consult if they desired. The Michigan Nonprofit Association volunteers also were given an
orientation by program leaders upon arrival at Gardner Academy, so that we could gain some advice
from experts about working with this population.

Additional Information
This project is notable because it incorporated a high concentration of best educational practices while
retaining the limited scope and budget of a mini-grant project. As such, it provides a valuable model for
achieving a high educational impact on a low budget. Educational impact resulted from close attention
to the needs of refugee youth as outlined in recent scholarship, with practices including youth
leadership, adult mentoring, co-curricular integration, and engagement of multiple intelligences. Erika
Brown-Binion, executive director of the Refugee Development Center, noted the successful effect of the
project: "This project helped the youth see that they were able to be real leaders in their community.
They were able to design, plan and implement a project from concept to completion that made an
immediate impact in their local community. They are truly proud of their accomplishment! (BrownBinion, 2016).

Global Youth Service Day 2016 Project Report, Sheryl Zukowski, 5/2/2016

(rev. 8/2016)

Communication about simple-but-effective projects like this one might serve to draw local interest to
the YNTATS population. Because this project required limited resources, it easily could be replicated
within other contexts. Within the framework of an existing after-school program for ESOL youth, similar
projects readily could be organized by leaders experienced with refugee youth along with a small
number of adult volunteers from the community no expensive equipment or professional artistic
expertise is needed. In recent years YSA and the Michigan Community Service Commission have sought
to encourage service projects involving refugee youth and other YNTATS sectors in this region with
relatively limited success. Michigan Community Service Commission received few applications that
included YNTATS volunteers for the Global Youth Service Day mini-grant program in 2016 despite the
presence of a large refugee community in the region. If regional organizations heard more about
YNTATS project models that could be run smoothly with limited resources and high educational value,
program leaders might be more willing to engage the youth of this sector.

References
America SCORES. About America Scores. Retrieved August 5, 2016 from America Scores Website:
http://www.americascores.org/about-us
Brown-Binion, E. (2016). E-mail conversation with author, April 26, 2016.
Covey, Stephen; Covey, Sean; Summers, M.; & Hatch, D. (2014). The Leader in Me. Simon and Schuster.
Gardner, Howard (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Basic Books.
Lpez, R. (2015). Enriching English Learner Education through School and Community Partnerships.
Voices in Urban Education, 41, 2-6
McBrien, J. L. (2005). Educational needs and barriers of refugee students in the United States: A review
of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 75(3), 329-364.
Mthethwa-Sommers, S. & Kisiara, O. (2015). Listening to Students from Refugee Backgrounds: Lessons
for Education Professionals. PennGSE Perspectives on Urban Education (12) 1.
Saar, K. & Mosselson, J. (2010). Issues in Teaching Refugees in U.S. Schools. Yearbook of the National
Society for the Study of Education, 548-570.
Schmidt, S., Morland, L., & Rose, J. (2006; revised 2009). Growing up in a New Country: A Positive Youth
Development Toolkit for Working with Refugees and Immigrants. Washington, DC: BRYCS.
Shadduck-Hernandez, J. (2006). "Here I Am Now!" Critical Ethnography and Community ServiceLearning with Immigrant and Refugee Undergraduate Students and Youth. Ethnography and Education,
1(1), 67-86.

Global Youth Service Day 2016 Project Report, Sheryl Zukowski, 5/2/2016

(rev. 8/2016)

Stewart, M. (2015). "My Journey of Hope and Peace": Learning From Adolescent Refugees' Lived
Experiences. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 59 (2)149-159.
Youth Service America, Engaging Youth Not Traditionally Asked to Serve. Retrieved from
https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/gysd/pages/6212/attachments/original/1452183179/YNTATS_
Resource_Final_(5).compressed.pdf?1452183179