Columbus adults have much to learn as they equip youths to mentor kids

March 5, 2020
Columbus adults have much to learn as they equip youths to mentor kids

Preparing high-school students to guide the spiritual education of younger kids is a big priority of Baha’is and friends in Northland, a neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, that’s home to a large number of Nepalese and other immigrants.

And as the newly trained youths begin to teach children’s classes and facilitate junior youth groups, the team of more-experienced people serving alongside them is learning about creating an infrastructure that can support their efforts.

That’s a shift in mindset for Columbus Baha’is and friends, says Roi Qualls. A Baha’i in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Qualls spends part of each week in the capital city helping to further a process of community building in the Northland neighborhood. He also hopes that what he and others learn will benefit efforts in his hometown nearly 60 miles to the west.

Qualls, 63, strives to put himself in the shoes of young people fresh out of their training courses and offering the core activities of community building for the first time. 

Columbus, Ohio, youth Sajan Magar loves to chant divine verses to a rhythmic beat. He is shown here during a weekend of intensive study at Louhelen Baha’i School in Davison, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Roi Qualls

“I think about what I was like at 15 or 16 years old and my ability to put together a coherent presentation. … Zero. I didn’t have that ability,” he reflects. “So I had to really adjust my expectations” of how much accompaniment young people need coming out of the gate. 

Learning to identify the strengths of specific youths and how to ask them to serve must be part of the preparatory process, he says.

“We realized that it’s really another set of skills for the team and the community to take newly trained youth and deploy them in an organized way so they can get experience,” says Qualls. “And I would say we’re not good at that yet. We haven’t acted in a way that conveys ownership.”

In this regard Yellow Springs has experience of its own to lend. “My wife, Linden, taught children’s classes for 30 years,” he notes. “And for the last 10 of those years she invited youths to help with the summer camp that she does and the classes that she teaches through the school year. 

“But they’ve always been helpers. So this year she has changed the nature of the conversation with a youth who has recently enrolled [in the Baha’i Faith] to actually co-teach the class,” says Qualls.

Now Evelyn Potter, who is 19, comes over to the Qualls’ Yellow Springs home “and they spend a couple of hours a few days ahead of each class to create the lesson plan together.” And immediately after each class she and Linden Qualls reflect on how things went. 

It’s an opportunity and process that Potter says has “definitely made a difference in my life and I’m so glad that I can give back by helping with the class now. I also love the connection that I am able to build with the kids.” 

Evelyn Potter (front right) helps conduct a five-day virtues camp in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Two youths from Columbus were among participants. Photo courtesy of Linden Qualls

Potter says she participated in children’s classes herself when younger and then started helping with classes. “I saw how great it was for children to come together and have a spiritual education.”

So when Linden Qualls asked her to co-teach with her, “I was super excited! She has been teaching the classes for years and has a lot of great material.”

Reflection after each class is where she learns the most, says Potter. “I think this is really important because there are a lot of things that we can improve. For example, this year we have a lot of children who have a hard time concentrating. 

“So we make sure to incorporate a lot of games and play breaks. We still have discussion time because we want to challenge them and make sure they learn to concentrate for longer periods of time.”

It’s a rich vein of learning that Roi Qualls wants to tap into for Columbus. “I … realized that what we’ve done so far is we’ve just said, ‘Oh, we’re having a children’s class Wednesday afternoon. Can you come over and help?’”

Youths from Columbus, Ohio, engage in a discussion during a weekend of intensive training at Louhelen Baha’i School in Davison, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Roi Qualls

Another area of learning: As the young people gain experience, many want additional training. If their friends also want to lead children’s classes or junior youth groups, they need introductory courses. That means tutors have to be in place to facilitate those courses. 

Qualls says that level of planning poses a major hurdle. “I don’t know any Baha’is who are free next week” to start tutoring a study circle, he says. “They’re all busy.  

“And so we have to advance our process to sit down and say for the next year, ‘Here will be the dates’ new courses start. ‘And here are the one or two people who are going to tutor them.’”

That way, says Qualls, people can commit “to doing that nine months in advance, or a year in advance, so we’re not trying to find people who are already busy doing five other activities to fit one more in.”

The hope is that by summer 2020, several youths in Northland will be leading spiritual education classes and at least five will be ready to tutor study circles. 

“And once they start tutoring people we’ve got to make sure we are ready to start this process again,” says Qualls. “Not only do we have to make sure that every [three-month] cycle we start a new study circle but that we start a cohort” of engaged youths.

“And as the cohorts progress,” he says looking forward, “now pretty much every school break we’re going to need five or six students who can take a week and do an intensive [training] with the cohort that is moving through the sequence of courses. 

“That requires a level of planning, and it won’t work if you haven’t planned for it.”


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