Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

Pathways for Youth Mentoring: Merging Communities of Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

Pathways for Youth Mentoring: Merging Communities of Practice

Article excerpt

Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to elicit a richer conversation for youth development practitioners and academic researchers related to the approach of youth mentoring training based on Vygotsky's (1967) sociocultural and activity theory. More specifically to conceptualize and guide youth mentoring research, particularly in inner-city communities where the environments can be most challenging to the health, social and academic development of young people. Recently, there has been an increasing call for youth development researchers to direct their efforts toward solving contemporary social problems that plague today's youth, particularly in environments that are most challenging to the well-being and academic development of our young people. While youth development practitioners are seen as being on the "front line" and continuously engaged in this endeavor, academic institutions are sometimes viewed by social activists as being self-serving and not fully committed to such endeavors. Using the principles of activity theory, this paper advances previous literature proposing a participatory paradigm as a basis for shared youth development work between practitioners and academic researchers. The paper describes the elements of a participatory youth mentoring training program and presents a case example to demonstrate its' characteristics.

Key-words: Mentor training; positive youth development; sociocultural and activity theory

1. Introduction

Recently, there has been a strong push for researchers to engage in youth development research with clear behavioral, academic, and socioeconomic implications. However, academicians who understand the role of youth and community voice in research are pushing for a more inclusive theoretically driven research methodology. Rather one in which the researcher does not solely control the process; a participatory approach in which researchers, practitioners, and participants negotiate the process. Moving to this process enables a greater number of features of the program itself to be explored, as well as the broader context within which it was implemented. Without given priority to these issues, it is more likely to undermine 'the development of the empowerment and voice of the participants, which we argue are key preconditions for program success. In relation to the program itself, the preference for didactic methods and frameworks encourages a participant-driven nature of the project and negative learner attitudes to the program.

2. Defining positive youth development

While there are a myriad of definitions that define positive youth development, the authors are drawn to the definition created by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development which states.

Positive youth development strives to help young people develop the inner resources and skills they need to cope with pressures that might lead to unhealthy and antisocial behaviors. It aims to promote and prevent, not to treat or remediate. Prevention of undesirable behaviors is one outcome of positive youth development, but there are others including the production of self-reliant, self confident adults who can become responsible members of society (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1992).

This inclusive definition centers on an approach that includes the voices of youth and the presence of caring adults. It addresses the broader development needs of youth, in contrast to deficit-based models, which tend to focus on youth problems. Our strengths based definition provides for a more natural learning process to occur between youth and adults (Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, and Hawkins, 1998; Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1992; Pittman and Cahill, 1991), and takes into account important development constructs (see Table 1 below) which when incorporated into youth programs have proven successful for both the youth and the adults involved.

In order to achieve these successes, youth are often situated in social learning environments that increasingly support positive behaviors, attitudes, and values (Quinn, 1995). …

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