Adviser Pushes Students to put Life Stories on Paper

When the time comes for Evan Forster to help young people who participate in the College Bound program at Chess-in-the-Schools to craft their college application essays, he goes out of his way to avoid having them write about chess. “That is the easy default,” said Forster, founder and owner of Forster-Thomas Inc., an educational and career consulting firm, and Essay Busters, a nonprofit. “But chess is already all over their candidacies,” said Forster, who has served as a college adviser at Chess-in-the-Schools for 12 years. “So their personal statement should add something new, get into the student’s soul,” Forster explained. “Otherwise, our kids begin to cancel one another out, telling the same story about how chess changed their lives.

Chess Organization Positions Students to Make Right Moves

Program is much more than tournaments and trophies; it helps low-income youth get into college. When Eriberto Guzman decided in 2009 as a high school freshman to join the chess program at The Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, he did it because it was a way to compete in national scholastic chess tournaments for free. After several months of chess instruction, he eventually did go on with his teammates to win first place in a national chess championship, as well as second place as an individual in the same tournament. But soon after Guzman got involved with the chess program at his school, he discovered it was about much more than winning tournaments and trophies. “Once I joined, they started giving us college seminars and providing us opportunities for community service and to go to [cultural] events,” Guzman said.

How Should Kids, Youth Workers Interact Virtually?

The key is keeping the same boundaries as in the physical world, agencies say, but that gets trickier online. Although youth workers and the young people with whom they interact naturally form close bonds, they don’t really become friends. 

However, this dynamic has taken on a new dimension in the past half-decade with the explosion of social media sites, led by Facebook, which has added ease and casualness that’s stretched the definition of the word friend and has simplified sharing pictures, descriptions and accounts of people’s personal lives, which heretofore would have been much more cumbersome — and required much more intentional action. Youth workers and leaders of youth-serving agencies must make new, informed decisions about dos and don’ts of social media and youth work. For some this may include a better understanding how social media works, while others — especially younger professionals — may need to unlearn some of the freewheeling habits they formed when they were teens themselves just a few years earlier, even as their overall understanding of social media and its tools are undoubtedly an asset. “Many, many youth-serving agencies, including schools, family service agencies, mental health, after-school programs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Scouts, etc., now recognize a need to develop reasonable, user-friendly guidelines to ensure proper use of this technology and to prevent any untoward uses of it,” said Frederic G. Reamer, professor of social work at Rhode Island College, who has lectured about and worked with professional associations to develop guidelines around how youth and their adult mentors should interact in the social media space.

Where Foxfire Still Glows

It’s first period, in late September, and students in the Foxfire Magazine class at Rabun County High School, in northeast Georgia, are doing what many journalists consider the least desirable part of their job: transcribing interviews. It’s time-consuming and tedious, but also necessary. Not just to get the facts right, of course, but to hear the telling tones and rhythms of voices — in some cases, voices not long for this world. Preserving these voices is part of Foxfire’s original mission, which is still playing out more than four decades after its birth here in the once-isolated mountain community where Deliverance was infamously filmed. A fungus found in the Southern Appalachians that produces a dim glow — and a potent metaphor for ural education — Foxfire has come to mean plenty of other things.