COVID-19: Remote Workshops

Teaching Youthful Offenders On-Line: Lessons Learned from AFJ’s First On-Line Class

Since closing our youth centers in Harlem and the Lower East Side to our youth offenders and at-risk teens due to the COVID-19 quarantine, Avenues for Justice (AFJ) is moving services on-line, including classes, mentoring and curfew check-ins. Because so many of our youth have no digital access, AFJ is also purchasing cell phones for them.

Yesterday, AFJ moved its on-going Creative Writing class to remote video conferencing, led by long-time volunteer, Nina, who has been tutoring and leading this writing class at our Lower East Side center.

Because the class was remote, we had students from a wider geographic area including Yonkers, the Bronx, Harlem as well as the Lower East Side.

By the end of the one-hour class, each youth had written three short pieces.  They were so enthusiastic, they asked if the class could be held weekly instead of two times per month. They also requested on-line community meals and cooking lessons. As one youth said, “This way I can keep learning while social distancing.”

AFJ asked Nina about the challenges and successes of the first workshop.

Workshop Description

Nina showed AFJ youths three Vincent van Gogh paintings, giving the group five minutes to write their impressions of each.  Students then shared their writings with the group and discussed how they came up with their ideas. In some cases, topics addressed family deaths and loss.

What were some of the pluses of a remote class?

One challenge is creating a concrete agenda. If you have a specific agenda with time limits, virtual learning can actually be more effective and efficient.

One amazing plus is that the AFJ youth were more focused and motivated during the on-line class - there were no side conversations like we have at the centers. When someone speaks, the other students are on mute and that encourages them to listen. 

Which on-line features would you bring back to the classroom when our centers re-open? 

I will create more focused workshops with concrete homework assignments. For this week’s homework, youth are thinking up an imaginary character they can write about, a task that works across all grade levels.

I recommend that AFJ continue its online curriculum after the quarantine. In addition to reaching more youth, AFJ could also access more volunteer tutors and teachers.

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