We sat down with Andrew Busath, a Latinos in Action (LIA) teacher and basketball and football coach at Kearns High School, to learn about his approach to supporting service learning and leadership development in partnership with Latinos in Action. Before completing his BA in Spanish and history at the University of Utah, Andrew served an LDS mission in Mexico.
LIA offers an asset-based approach to bridging the graduation and opportunity gap for Latino students, working from within the educational system to create positive change. The program operates as a year-long elective course taught by a highly-qualified teacher at the middle school or high school level. The end goal is to empower Latino youth to lead and strengthen their communities.
Now in its eleventh year, Kearns High’s LIA program includes 7 LIA classes. Across the U.S. LIA serves over 250 schools in 13 states.
What civic skill building and service experiences do you support for your LIA students?
Increasing youth pride in the Kearns community and schools.
Decrease youth alcohol use and substance abuse
Help families continue to be strong and supportive of their children
Ensure our families and youth are physically and mentally healthy.
Most kids on the Youth Council are in LIA, but not all LIA students are on the council.
The #MyKearns Youth Council was supposed to meet eight times a year, but the students wanted to meet every week…I said OK! And we were off and running!
During the pandemic the students got busy raising over $7,000 for local food pantries; >$5,000 for the Homeless Youth Resource Center, and more for other causes. Some did voter registration in the school. These kids found positive things to go and do for their community, instead of engaging in risky behaviors. Just this year, Utah’s Best of State awarded Kearns Youth Council Best Youth Council in the state.
How are these activities tied to academic study or achievement?
The service and leadership experiences like the Youth Council deepen learning in all academic subjects. LIA was initially focused solely on school success, but over time it has moved toward more design thinking and project based initiatives based on issues that matter to the students. When the kids get to design the project, it changes them!
LIA starts with the question: What assets can students bring to their community? One LIA student is really good at skateboarding. What if by sharing his love of skateboarding he and his friends could help younger kids get more active? He held a skateboarding clinic at West Kearns Elementary’s afterschool program. What happens if you fall? You get back up.
With these activities our kids are learning entrepreneurship, mentoring, and other job skills.
Reading scores took a hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. Today Kearns High’s LIA kids are tutoring the younger kids in reading. We’re seeing a correlation between participation in big, meaningful service projects and higher GPAs, graduation rates: 98% for LIA students compared to 82% overall, though the pandemic knocked this down a bit. On their path to college and career success, our students are finding that the best way to learn is by teaching and helping others.
What’s next for you and your LIA students?
The students are expanding their impact to the entire school and neighborhood, for example in Read Across America in conjunction with United Way of Salt Lake’s “Promise Neighborhoods.”
Through Teach Empowered, which supports a community of change-making teachers, we’re experimenting with a classroom marketplace. More recently, our LIA classes got access to a vacant lot. OK, if it were up to you to transform this (it is!), what would you do with this space? From there we are considering deeper academic questions: Why is the building closed in the first place?
What should the Utah Civic Learning Collaborative focus on?
Youth councils can provide really worthwhile, hands-on leadership opportunities. You might partner with the USU-based Utah Association of Youth Councils (UAYC) and promote their forthcoming “blueprint” of effective youth council activity. Kids from all walks of life need incentives (and powerful examples) to get engaged in youth councils. The UATC also provides leadership training in a summer retreat for students on youth councils.
What’s the takeaway for our efforts to support academic service learning and skill building?
What made the MyKearns Youth Council and LIA initiatives tick was how the students started with their strengths and interests. These kids are realizing their full potential because we changed the mindset about what kids can become.