During the adolescent years, young people grapple with a variety of major social and emotional issues and need to develop a variety of competencies. These include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making and relationship skills. This is a time during which students work out their identities, establish autonomy, develop intimacy and define for themselves what it means to achieve and try to find opportunities for success. Competencies must be developed as students face social cruelty (sometimes in the form of bullying), peer pressure, social anxiety and more.

Washington Latin helps students navigate the challenges of adolescence in a variety of ways, including through our advisory program, health education classes and individual and small-group counseling. One of our newest initiatives, launched this year for students in 6th and 7th grades, is our Youth Empowerment Seminar. Twice a week, students participate in hands-on experiences designed to help them problem solve and make thoughtful decisions in challenging situations, grow their confidence, and withstand criticism and peer pressure. This is facilitated by English teacher, Joe Green and history teacher, Elaina Barroso.

Because early adolescents still do not have fully developed frontal lobes of their brain and it is hard for some pre-teens to understand consequences, the class highlights cause-effect relationships so students can better understand how decisions they make can impact their friends and the school community.  In the first quarter, the YES program discussed what it means to be part of a community and designed different acts of service to help benefit the Latin community or other communities in need. Students also evaluated the impact of social media.

The goal of this new student-centric program is to encourage students in a developmentally appropriate way to feel empowered and understand that they have agency to make thoughtful decisions. By teaching the skills involved in emotional intelligence, we hope to show students how to empathize with other people.

Through this program, students can select service programs like writing notes with positive messages and posting them around the school hallways and lockers, making sandwiches to distribute to people who are homeless or hungry, and organizing bake sales to raise funds for various causes throughout D.C. and beyond.

While this is becoming increasingly popular, the classical tradition has always been concerned with the education of the “whole child.” As such, we have long been committed to providing for our students dynamic and comprehensive learning experiences. YES is part of this effort.