Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Schools




170 Chestnut Street,
Amherst MA 01002

Youth Engagement

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Youth Engagement or Youth Culture initiative is….

The last four years consisted of developing a positive youth program; which gracefully transitioned into the Youth Culture Initiative(Y.C.I.). The Y.C.I. is the term used to describe all the work, done at the different schools. Any leadership work done with kids or connects long term. Various work falls underneath that umbrella term. Categories can be broken into sub-divisions of Elementary School, Middle School, High school and College collaborations. This initiative provides young scholars with opportunity to enhance their leadership skills through:

  • Academic skill development
  • Collaboration with the Steps to Success Program, another program located in the Family Center
  • Collaboration with the VELA After school program

 Giving students a place to develop positive peer relationships and a sense of community is priority. Along these lines High School, Middle School, Elementary, and College students engage in:

  • Interactive hands-on learning activities that strengthen executive functioning skills; and
  • Inter-group dialogue, which explores identity development.

Inter-grading recreational, artistic, and educational programs, throughout the district is an overarching goal of the YCI. Through participation in activities and the program students learn to work on a team; effectively communicating messages to others; identify their personal brand; interviewing skills; envisioning future jobs and long term career choices; conceptualizing and developing a resume.

 Anastasia Morton Youth Engagement Coordinator
Anastasia Morton
(413) 362-1875


 School Level: Elementary School

Project Title: They Made It…So Can I

The “They Made It…So Can I” program is a 6th grade speaker series that aims to create timeless memories of success for 6th grade students and teachers; in the Amherst School system. Our hope to aspire students by diverse stories, that can be carried on through Middle School, since they are about to begin and beyond.  The goal of the program is to have 6thgraders exposed to stories about how differently success can look during a lifetime. As well as, showing students that there are different roads to success for all of everyone.  The simple, yet profound, experience of hearing other peoples’ stories, can have a significant impact on a young person’s life.


Dr. Ron Ferguson, Director of the Harvard Achievement Gap Institute, spoke to the Amherst Teaching community about the benefits of the “They Made It…So Can I” (TMISCI)speaking series. After reaching out to the founder and creator of the program, Patricia Spencer, a similar version was piloted a last year. Each sixth grade classroom was visited by three community members who shared their stories; students asked great questions and wrote reflections of their experience. Moving forward this year, the focus will continue to interlock Ms. Spencer’s vision and Dr. Fergusons Pathways to Prosperity framework. 


School Level: Middle School

Project Title: Individual Skill building sessions & VELA After-school program

 1.Project Description:

Individual Skill Building sessions

Just about everyone has a vision of his or her ideal life. Organizing a trip, researching a project or a paper for school, and managing life tasks is an example of “Executive functioning”. Aimed at helping Middle School students meet academic and/or personal goals, the Individual Skill Building sessions helps students:

  • Act more decisively, and 
  • Set clear goals towards achieving what they want from life  
  • Break negative belief patterns, such as low self-esteem and self-destructive behavior

Monthly, for an hour, participants focus on improving their academics and emotional regulations. In addition to examining immediate and long term goals, and practicing behaviors that focus on moving past challenges that stand in the way of achieving goals.


Most of us turn to a friend who we consider to be ‘wise’ when it comes to making key decisions or overcoming problems. However, our friends may not always have the answers or may not be objective. Prompting students to see life from various perspectives and empowering students to be more confident in their upcoming future is the pedagogy used in every session. Exploring the underlying causes of problems, and helping to find routes to success is a perk of this program, as well.

2.Project Description:

VELA Afterschool program

Leadership development in the VELA After school homework & enrichment program, located in the Amherst Regional Middle School(ARMS), gives students the opportunity to actively engage in academically, mentally and emotionally rigorous activities that prepare students for transitioning to High School. After school students engage in Youth Leadership and Identity Development workshops. In the VELA program, participants have opportunities to:

  • Engage in dialogue around social issues
  • Obtain practical study skills
  • Collaborate with High School and College mentors; and
  • Visit neighboring colleges

along with other fun learning activities. Participants finish the year with an array of skills, including but not limited to, public speaking, homework strategies and multitasking. Students who have completed the year leave feeling like you have grown from the process and prepared to go onto the high school and college of their dreams. Workshops give students the chance to organize their priorities and decide in which directions they want to go in the future.


Through weekly intergroup dialogues and leadership activities/workshop, thinking is pushed to a deeper level of understanding. Weekly, students engage in subject matter ranging from problem solving, writing, critical thinking, time management, computer and academic skills (e.g. note-taking, active reading, daily review, test preparation), as well as occasional field trips off the campus.


School Level: High School

Project Title:  Success After High School program & COSEBOC Group of Boys

 1.Project Description:

Success After High School program

It is estimated that by the year 2020, two-thirds of all jobs will require some level of post-secondary education. Through leadership development and intergroup dialogue students in the evening Success After High School program prepares students for the college experience and for the 21st century workforce. Each session provides students with opportunities for practicing the academic and behavioral skills necessary to succeed in the world after High School. Through rigorous activities like:

  • Personal statements essay writing
  • Researching colleges scholarship
  • Identity Work
  • Participation in team building exercises
  • Public Speaking
  • Critical thinking dialogue, and
  • Conflict resolution 

Students stuck in a rut become clearer on how to reach goals. Continuously working on organization, time management, critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving are key goals of the Success After High School program.


In today’s society, academic excellence is not enough to ensure post-secondary readiness. A well rounded and clear understanding of one’s identity is a key element of thriving in college and/or a career. Thus, building the capacity to explore “within” is in direct alignment with maintaining a positive “self-image”. Identifying, managing and appropriately expressing emotions and behaviors is an essential piece of building resilience to overcome challenges in the future. Early college awareness, ongoing exposure to college students and college campuses is necessary to make an informed choice of future goals. Thus, creating visible and varying avenues to a successful future including both college and non-college options is a mandatory step for conveying the message that all students can thrive outside of High school.

2.Project Description:

COSEBOC Group of Boys

 Looking to build a network of young leaders, throughout the 2016-17 school year the Y.C.I. will collaborate with theAmherst Regional High School(ARHS) and several young men of color in the school. Following the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC) website motto of “connect(ing), inspire(ing), support(ing) and strengthen(ing) school leaders dedicated to the social, emotional and academic development of boys and young men of color”, looking forward a variety of programs and services will be implemented, rooted in the framework of offering male students of color pathways to succeed in the world.


In an effort to reduce/eliminate educational disparities, students will engage in a variety of professional developments, and enrichment opportunities. The applied training framework will nurture the talents and interests of the young men that attended the COSEBOC conference. Students will design culturally responsive lesson plans that encourage critical reflection on what it means to survive and thrive in the Amherst School system. Thus participation in activities will empower youth to understand that success does not have to mean leaving one’s culture and roots behind.


School Level: College Collaborations

 Project Description:

College Collaborations

Providing college students with opportunities, to support existing and new educational projects is an ongoing task. Thus daily college students are:

  • Assisting students with understanding homework concepts
  • Working with and/or assisting students in project-based learning settings
  • Creating electronics designs and project
  • Producing short videos
  • Acting skits
  • Photo galleries
  • Fashion shows

To name a few. As part of the Y.C.I, a majority of time is spent in the ARPS Family Center. However, outside of that time, there are several opportunities for students to branch out into various areas of the district to foster leadership development.


As we move into the new school year, I look forward to continuing the partnership with various college students who are motivated, and want to further develop their leadership/mentoring expertise. The Youth Culture Initiatives offers leadership opportunities, internships, and community service learning hours.