University of Minnesota helps teens share their stories

Published 9:10 am Monday, June 18, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS — Undergraduates at the University of Minnesota are helping graduating middle school students document their uniqueness and desires for social change.

Northeast Middle School eighth grade students created digital stories that highlight their identities through the Minnesota Youth Story Squad program, Minnesota Daily reported . Stories detailed living with diabetes, dealing with negative body-image and being Native American. Students presented the pieces at their graduation ceremony June 7.

The program is funded by university faculty members and aims to inspire students to pursue social justice and positively impact their communities. The initiative began two years ago, but it first came to Northeast during the 2017-2018 school year.

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“We target middle schoolers particularly because there are so few programs for (them) and young teens,” said Jigna Desai, program co-founder and a professor of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies and Asian American Studies. “They have a lot to say. . Middle school youth never have an opportunity to share what they know.”

Many of the students come from low-income households and are minorities, Desai said.

University students visited the school weekly to mentor students and share their own stories in the hopes of encouraging the middle school students to open up about their experiences.

“It’s not just about the youth, but it’s about creating larger structural or institutional change,” Desai said.

Desai said communication is important part of a teenager’s success and the program tries to get students ready for high school and college.

“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,” she said.