Leadership for Life

The Leadership for Life program targeted young people (aged 14 to 20) who have been expelled or suspended from high school and have been involved with the justice system (e.g. arrested, charged, convicted or some combination thereof). Originally piloted in the Toronto District School Board in 2008 and 2009, the program was extended through early 2011, thanks to funding from the Department of Justice Canada. The assessment focused on the program’s delivery in eight secondary schools across Toronto between September 2010 and February 2011.

The program supported a key goal of the Youth Criminal Justice Act by promoting the rehabilitation of young offenders and offering a means to reintegrate them into school. Much of the program was designed by Trinity Theatre and involved the use of theatre techniques such as role-playing, improvisation and storytelling. These techniques were adapted to address the particular needs of participants and the high school environment. During the evaluation period, the program delivered 11 workshops to a total of 100 expelled and/or suspended students.

The program aimed to improve participants’ knowledge, skills and abilities in five areas:

  • self-awareness of emotions, supports and personal needs;
  • collaboration with peers, mentors and teachers;
  • conflict resolution;
  • meeting personal, social and emotional needs in healthy ways; and
  • addressing academic challenges.

Project assessment

StrategiSense Inc., an independent, Toronto-based consultation company, completed an  assessment in three stages: data collection, analysis, and documentation of findings. Methods included both pre- and post-session surveys of participants, along with telephone interviews with the project leader, child and youth workers and counsellors, teachers and nine participants.

A total of 65 participants completed surveys. Most (56 percent) were male; 75 percent were under the age of 17.  All had been expelled from high school and had prior involvement with the justice system.

Key findings

The program was effective at increasing school attendance among participants, particularly Monday through Thursday. Several participants reported earning more credits, and found the return to school easier, than they had expected. The recidivism rate among participants was less than the rate for other students.

Lessons learned

  • Develop and implement strategies to transfer skills and knowledge from Trinity Theatre’s co-directors to other facilitators.

  • Encourage partnerships between Trinity Theatre Toronto and other non-profit youth organizations. Programs led by non-academic groups in society — such as Trinity Theatre — can be valuable.

  • Provide credits for full participation. The ability to earn a high school credit would create an immediate and tangible motivation for students and also encourage parents and teachers to support the program.

  • Explore the role that gender may play in workshop delivery and effectiveness by segregating boys and girls. At a minimum, identify strategies to increase the levels of comfort and participation among male participants.

  • Develop channels for teachers and staff to share their experiences with the program. Teachers who are new to the program would benefit immensely from contact with those familiar with the impact that the program has had on participants and schools. Whether through an Internet site with testimonials and interviews or through an annual event, this exchange would increase the overall effectiveness of the program when introduced into schools.

Conclusion

The evaluation indicated that the program improved the quality of life for student participants and increased the capacity of schools to respond to the particular needs of participants. Survey and interview data indicated a strong consensus among participants and stakeholders that overall program goals had been met.

View the project description

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