YDL Reflection

YDL Reflection

I have chosen to express a few key learning moments in the program, disappointments, and areas of growth. The pieces may be disconnected, but I believe convey the most significant influences the program has had on me.

Learning Moments

  1. Sercombe Master’s Thesis

For my final “project” in Mike’s class, I chose to read through a number of books and write abstracts for them. One of the selections I read was a Master’s Thesis Mike gave to me by a man named Howard Sercombe, who did his research in Australia and challenged the label of youth and its intent. He argued that the very idea of youth has been constructed as a political move to exclude a portion of society from full citizenship, and that the main reason a revolution or movement has not challenged this construct is because youth move out of the category too quickly to rally together and become organized (Sercombe, 1996).

This concept has stuck with me. While I may not feel this political construct as completely as Sercombe, I do share his belief that youth are capable of much more than the current expectations allow. And I also believe that adults often minimize their contributions, potential and actual, whether in an attempt for political control and power or out of a misplaced idea that they are incapable.

Sercombe’s conversation surrounding the capabilities of youth and rights of youth to contribute is now vital to the way in which I interact with youth in daily life and in my programs. I enter each space expecting youth to be capable of great contributions and attempt to offer space to make that happen and assistance in reminding them of their intelligence and skills.

  1. Community Class Re-start

Jerry’s class on Community did not start well for our group last semester. It was really quite rough. Each class was filled with a great deal of tension and many students who did not look forward to it (myself included). Our class resented the assigned readings, being called out in class, the large group conversations, and basically everything about the entire format of the class. And this went on for weeks.

So after talking with several classmates about the situation, and feeling like I knew at least a little bit about the thoughts of others in the group, I went to Jerry and chatted with him about how the class was going and to see if there were other ways the class could be formatted to make it a better educational experience for everyone. Jerry was already aware of the “vibe” that had been going on and had already made plans to re-adjust the course based on the first half of the semester.

But the experience of going to him, and his response in basically calling a “do-over”, was vital to my growth in the YDL program. The program has been teaching us to help youth learn to take control of their own lives, their own learning, their own selves, and this was a time where we as master’s students were in a position to do exactly what we had been taught. And I almost didn’t do it. I had become so accustomed to other’s dictating my education that I almost sat back and continued to complain right alongside my other classmates. Complained and grumbled with absolutely no intention of doing my part to change things.

In going to Jerry, I was able to see how truly challenging it can be to take that control. There are so many pieces to it. It wasn’t just my own learning, it was the whole class. The conversation I had with Jerry would affect many people, and could have hurt his feelings as well. Additionally, I had no way of knowing whether changes in the course would really have any impact on the environment of the classroom. The experience showed me the need to have more patience and grace when youth do not take as much control as I think they should.


  1. Bait and Switch

My first semester in the program I took one class: Mike’s. The class was a dream come true, and still my favorite class I have ever taken. Mike sat in a room with us and asked us to chat about kids. And he asked us to think about our chats. And to read about our chats. And to learn about kids. And to show him in some way, whatever way, that we had learned new things about kids.

It was magic.

I learned more in that one class than I could ever have imagined, and I learned about areas of youth development that mattered to me. And without the pressures of a traditional academic syllabus. And with the support of an amazing professor who made it clear he would aid us in whatever ways he could.

And then I started all my other classes.

Don’t get me wrong. They were good. They have taught me a great deal. I have grown and been challenged and being introduced to many new aspects of youth development. But all of these other classes have been firmly couched within traditional academic rules. I have been given syllabi, specific reading assignments, and specific writing assignments. Classes follow the same general structure: lecture, discussion, small group, maybe additional discussion. Small groups discuss an article almost every time. We sit in our rectangle of desks and wait for a professor to give us our education.

There is no more magic.

I understand that the program exists within a university setting, and as such, has specific requirements to fulfill. But I am still disappointed. I chose to enter the program based on the magic of Mike’s class, but the magic and excitement of that class did not continue through. I stayed in the program for other reasons.

Significant Influences

  1. Widening Perspective

Prior to the start of the program, my experience with youth development work was largely within the confines of camping and church ministries. Even my work with the college was a church-based format. Since being part of the program, I have had the chance to interact with classmates, prof, professors, and organizations who are involved in a much wider mix of youth development organizations. My insulated conception of the “best” youth development work happening within the camp setting was challenged the more I interacted with classmates running after school programs, sports groups, art events, group homes, and much more. These individuals showed similar passion to my own, and the work that they were doing I could tell was just as significant and powerful as my own has been.

Looking back, this should not have surprised me in the least. But it really did.

And now that I see youth development with this wider lens, the options I have moving forward are much bigger and broader. Camp is not my only career choice. And a program with the label “youth development” isn’t necessarily required. The jobs I am interested in now include organizations that never before seemed within reach or even within my area of expertise.

  1. Programs will Fail

Going into the program, I had the misconception that programs succeeded or failed based on the capabilities of the youth development professional. I believed that if the “right” person put the “right” program in place, it would always be successful. The YDL program has taught me that youth are changing, society is changing, and that there are simply too many moving parts to ever speak about youth development in concretes.

A program that worked well for a dozen years may suddenly lose relevance. A person who appears to be an incredible youth development professional may simply not fit well in a specific context. A “right” program may be exactly the wrong program for a community. And while we do have ways of hypothesizing about what may be valuable or not, we have no ways of knowing for sure.

The YDL program has emphasized this over and over to me, which has helped me to become a more confident and flexible professional. Since I know that every program will eventually lose relevance, and every program will not fit every context, I am more confident in trying new ideas. If an idea fails, I now realize it wasn’t necessarily my implementation of it that was wrong. It just might have been something that didn’t work. And because I have the confidence to experiment more, I am learning to be more flexible. When something doesn’t work, I have a back up plan. Or three. These are simple differences, but have a profound impact on the way in which I approach youth development work.



Sercombe, H. (1996) Naming Youth: the construction of the youth category. (Unpublished master’s thesis).


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