If YouthLink Had Been Around When I Grew Up, Perhaps I Would Have Made Different Choices

I want to express my deepest gratitude for hosting my grade six class at YouthLink.  I was surprised by the emotional impact I felt at the end of this experience. After taking some time to reflect, I came to realize the impact that I would have experienced from attending YouthLink when I was growing up.

I cannot help but feel that if I had gone through a program like YouthLink when I was in school, maybe I would have made different choices, or at least I would have known how to get help. Like many of my students, I came from a loving home, but I lacked the knowledge of how to advocate for myself when faced with difficult situations. My dad was killed in a car accident when I was five years old and it was a police officer who told my family he was no longer alive. For the longest time I was scared of police officers because I only associated them with our family tragedy.

YouthLink classes being taught by police officers helps students to build relationships with them and better understand their roles. I wasn’t given this opportunity as a child and I think it is so important that students, who come from all different stories and backgrounds, can see police as trusted adults.

Entering into junior high I started to self-harm and I continued this behaviour for 10 years. Whenever I felt the courage to ask for help, I didn’t know how or who to go to. I often turned towards friends my own age who didn’t know what to do when I shared my story.

When students leave YouthLink, they receive a card of “Who to Call” with a list of phone numbers and resources if they need to seek help. Another important aspect of YouthLink is that students learn about values and healthy relationships. I am sure this topic may have been covered in my classes, but it was likely awkwardly brushed off in the context of the classroom.  At YouthLink, every lesson is so purposeful and engaging.  I watch my students listening actively and being left with many take-away lessons.

I entered and stayed in an abusive relationship for almost 2 years when I was in University. I didn’t know what I valued in my life. I didn’t understand that there are healthy relationships and, once again, I lacked support of how to get help.

I don’t want my students to be left wondering the same things I did.  That is why I think it is so important for students to have YouthLink, taught by police officers, so we can help them make good choices and understand how to get help if they find themselves in tough situations. When I watch these lessons being taught to my students by the police, I can’t help but feel emotional because I know that this experience will be invaluable as they grow up.

Over the week at YouthLink I witnessed several successes; some were behavioural, some were academic, and some were pretty big milestones. I have a student who is coded with ADHD and in the classroom he is often behind and trying to keep up. Officer JM made him the photographer for his group during the crime scene. This boy was given the opportunity to be a leader in a group with his peers, something he rarely gets to experience.

My student who has family members in prison due to gang activity personally thanked the officers at the end of YouthLink and gave them a hug. This is a boy who, at the end of our school day, at most, gives me a straight faced high-five.

I have a student who came to Canada in the middle of the school year last year. He rarely advocates for himself and lacks confidence in speaking English. At YouthLink, he couldn’t keep his hand down. He was so excited to answer every question, share his ideas, and ask the officers for help when he didn’t understand.

I have two students who are still learning to read, and they were both given opportunities to read in front of the entire class with assistance. Both times their classmates recognized the significance and rewarded their courage with a round of applause.

I try to cultivate a caring classroom where my students feel safe to take risks and make mistakes. To see these skills carry over and encouraged at YouthLink created memories for me that I truly will never forget.

I often tell people I have 25 kids.  I see my students as my children and I love them dearly, but with that love comes worry. I go home after the bell and I worry on my drive home, during supper, and while I’m trying to fall asleep, about the choices they are being faced with. YouthLink gives me a sense of comfort that my students will; see police as trusted adults if they show up at their door, know how to get help if faced with a difficult situation, and understand their values and self-worth so they can recognize an unhealthy relationship.

This program is truly a blessing and one that is not taken for granted.

-Grade Six Teacher

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