The University of Tennessee believes teens are agents of change and are capable of addressing many issues they face today. Through Aspire, a youth development program serving high school students in the state of Tennessee, students are trained and empowered to take a leadership role in their schools and communities. Funding provided by the Tennessee Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Program allows The University of Tennessee, Center for Government Training, to administer the Aspire Program.
Adult sponsors from 19 schools and community agencies select eight diverse students to serve on their Aspire team. These students, who mirror the school they represent, participate in training sessions designed to enhance their leadership skills. Eight college students, as well as Tennessee’s Y.E.S. (Youth Engaged in Service) Ambassador provide the training.
Having received leadership training, Aspire teams are charged with designing and implementing service projects in their local areas. Through these student-initiated projects, teams address two specific program goals: They work to improve school climate as it to relate to safe and disciplined learning environment, and they change attitudes and norms regarding youth alcohol and other drug use.
Aspire teams are currently implementing a variety of projects. The Haywood County High School has trained its team in peer mediation. Mediators educate the student body about the mediation process and how it might solve a variety of school and personal conflicts. Morristown Hamblin East High School began a mentoring project serving incoming freshmen also. Team members visited eighth grade students throughout the school year to discuss topics such as choosing classes and extra-curricular activities. The mentors served as resources during the first week of school.
Humphrey’s County 4-H All Stars deliver an annual training program for 60 area eighth grade students on ethical leadership. The 4-H Aspire team designed this training based upon information learned at their regional Aspire training. Annually a celebration is held to close out the school year and recognize outstanding efforts of the volunteers. At the party, teams showcase their accomplishments and network with others from across the state to gain new ideas for the coming year. Student leaders facilitate many workshops so that others can learn how to duplicate their projects.
Aspire teams have had a positive impact on their communities. They have affected their peers and developed their own leadership skills through experiential learning. The volunteers determine the unmet needs in their school, and Aspire provides a framework within to problem solve. Aspire differs from many statewide programs in that resources are concentrated on students as the change agents in their community. The volunteers determine their greatest need and gives them the freedom to choose how to meet that need. The Aspire team members are selected from diverse environments and are therefore able to mobilize their peers through a personal connection.