- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 3, 2006

Jumping into college life straight from high school without a firm understanding of one’s own values and goals, and without a realistic network of relationships, often results in a lot of wasted motion. Families may find that after several years of expense, the young person feels confused, has no firm sense of purpose for the study, and may even have serious health or emotional issues stemming from experimentation.

Experiential learning, such as through internships and volunteer work, can help young people avoid a lot of the meandering that often plagues someone immersed in an academic-only structure.

At this moment, three home-schooled youth and six other high-school graduates are embarking on a one-year program of public service and experiential learning before entering college with the HIV/AIDS prevention group known as the WAIT (Washington AIDS International Teens) team.

These WAIT trainers will be traveling, performing and training other youths to carry out this same work in their respective states or countries. They are also developing talents that will enable them to expand the ways of sharing this information with larger audiences, such as through video and music production, original songwriting, Web site design and video-game development.

At the same time, the group is getting some practical training in financial management, travel arrangement and administrative tasks. They are learning bookkeeping, including two different kinds of software programs. They are also being educated in the legal structures and requirements of nonprofit corporations, and the responsibilities and positions involved.

Auxiliary training opportunities are also being provided. Specialized training in character education, grant-seeking and fundraising, and other areas, has been integrated into the project.

One of the key aspects of this year of service is daily communication with their families, and a collaborative effort to support their home and community, even while serving elsewhere. Through cell phones and e-mail, they are able to connect to their parents, siblings and extended family, and to keep close contact with this vital emotional support system.

Some family members are even working with the trainers from time to time, teaching or supporting the outreach work.

Part of their travel will be back to the home area, to actually build teams in their own communities and states. In this way, when they complete the year of service, they are already poised to continue using what they have learned in the hometown setting, and they and their families are fully aware of all the things they have experienced during their term of public work.

This family connectedness is important for several reasons. First, the young person is bound to face many challenges during such an intense period, especially in dealing with a life-and-death issue such as the spread of AIDS. Being able to share with, and be guided by, his or her parents allows the young person to step out into the larger world with the safe underpinning of the parents’ values, love and support.

Second, the family is able to learn alongside the youth. They will be hearing about, witnessing and thinking about the events that the young person is experiencing. Their consciousness necessarily expands. They become exposed to the wider world, and are able to contribute to that world through their guidance and effort together with their family member.

The goals of the program are to help young people realize their power to create change in the larger society using their unique talents, and building from a positive relationship base with family and community.

They are not simply being processed through a set structure but, rather, they are building structures for themselves and others. They are the architects and engineers of an experience in which they learn, and they also teach others. For more information about this project, visit www.waitteam.org.

• Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer living in Maryland.

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