Indian American Jigna Desai, a professor of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Minnesota, has co-founded a program that lets students at Northeast Middle School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, share their stories to bring out their identities and make a change in the world.
The Minnesota Youth Story Squad is a program that was founded by faculty members at the University of Minnesota, two years ago, to provide a platform for middle school students to share their uniqueness while inspiring others and creating a positive impact in their communities, according to the Minnesota Daily.
“We target middle schoolers particularly because there are so few programs for [them] and young teens. They have a lot to say. Middle school youth never have an opportunity to share what they know,” Desai told the Minnesota Daily.
The initiative was begun for students who were from different backgrounds and specifically, low-income households.
Students were allowed to create videos of their stories such as living with diabetes, having a negative body-image and being afraid of expressing one’s Native American culture as well as issues of race, gender and sexual orientation, and were featured at their eighth grade graduation.
Undergraduates from the University are also allowed to take part in this project as an internship as they visit the school once a week to mentor the students, encouraging them to open up about their experiences by sharing their own.
Sean Baldwin, a teacher at NEMS told the Minnesota Daily that the “students became actively engaged in the program, despite it occurring in the last quarter of the school year” as it “really bridged the gap between the academia, community and poverty.”
Ann Edgerton, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Child Development Center said “during adolescence, teenagers are still developing their executive functions. Executive functions are the skills that help people plan, focus attention and multitask, tools necessary to succeed in school.”
“Communication is key to a teenager’s success, and the Youth Story Squad tries to make students ready for high school and collegiate classrooms. We think it’s really important that their stories are heard and that there’s an impact in the process of listening to others’ stories too because it makes you look at your community differently,” Desai added.