Encourage relationship building between youth & adults with these 10 youth-inspired changes to your organization’s environment

Bernadette Sanchez

By Bernadette Sánchez, Tené Gray, and Elsa Rodriguez

We have been working on a research project with Hive Chicago to understand relationship building between youth and adults. Hive Chicago is a diverse network of civic and cultural institutions that is focused on transforming the learning landscape by empowering youth and educators to enact Connected Learning. Connected Learning is an educational process that links youth’s academic studies, personal passions and opportunities via the support of peers, adults and institutions. The goal of Connected Learning is to create new pathways to college, career and civic pursuits.

We recently conducted 5 focus groups with 26 youth who are served by Hive Chicago organizations. Youth talked about their interactions with adults in and outside these organizations. One of the most fascinating parts of the discussions was about the role that settings play in facilitating relationship building between adults and youth. Below are the ideas that youth discussed regarding the tangible and intangible aspects of the environment that help youth and adults get to know one another:

Tangible characteristics of the environment

  1. Physical space
    Create space that is fun, happy, colorful, and playful. Space should be large enough to allow for activities and location should be easily accessible.
  2. Décor/furniture
    Invest in comfortable couches; paper on tables and white boards for students to write on.
  3. Organization of space/office that allows for equal interactions
    Create open offices and shared spaces that allow access to staff at all times.
  4. Designated spaces for specific kinds of activities
    Incorporate designated spaces for working, creating, and socializing.
  5. Furniture is engaging, creative and spontaneous in the room set-up
    Try structuring the seating in a circle or zig-zag.
  6. Smaller setting/Group size
    Use multiple small groups for activities as opposed to a single classroom sized group.

Intangible characteristics of the environment

  1. Staff work as a team with youth
    Don’t adopt a strict hierarchy; staff treats each other with respect and staff treats students with respect.
  2. Informal & Laid back
    Create an environment that is less restrictive than other formal settings such as schools.
  3. Non-evaluative supportive learning environment
    Make sure staff are there to help youth without evaluating them (i.e., grades)
  4. Flexibility
    Create a policy whereby youth are welcome to engage in activities or just hang out.

We hope you can use this information to better reach youth and get to know them!