The Student Champion Program (SCP) was launched on February 8th, 2023, at Skyline Middle School as an exploratory designed to nurture leadership skills, offer training on restorative practices and equity, and create community among students. Currently, the program has a cohort of eleven eighth graders, mostly Black and Brown boys, who already have welcomed vulnerability within the classroom by opening up about the school-to-prison pipeline, household traumas, and personal experiences of shame.
In fact, by our second lesson, two students, Suhaul and Jayden, were openly sharing their admiration of each other’s observed leadership skills—within the context of basketball—and readily admitted how their connection encouraged them to not only play better but also lead better. After some time, it is clear that students are especially responsive when asked about their lived experiences and seem eager to share their stories as if they were being told for the very first time.
As the program facilitator, I conjecture that these open conversations will be critical in developing the students’ collective curiosity and individual introspection. Another of our students, Steven, has also been vocal about his understanding of the material so far and when asked, was able to provide succinct definitions for terms like the restorative paradigm, trauma-informed practices, and agency & assets. This is especially impressive when we consider that we are only entering the fourth lesson this month, and these young leaders are already learning concepts that are still being introduced to schools worldwide. Indeed, the SCP was developed to educate students on a plethora of subjects related to leadership, such as relationship building, open communication, conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and empathy.
To begin this journey, Akoben is crafting an environment that equips students with skills that once only belonged to teachers and staff. Essentially, the SCP endeavors to create proactive learning spaces for future leaders by orienting them to a paradigm that will advance their relationships and attitudes. The current cohort is expected to graduate from the program in late April and will therefore provide further information about the process of becoming a Student Champion.