Teck John Baker Youth Leaders Program

The Teck John Baker Youth Leaders Program began a few years ago after eight students in the Northwest Arctic Borough School District took their lives during a year-long period ending in August 2009.   The Teck John Baker Youth Leaders Program is built on the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation’s Natural Helper curriculum, and has been adapted to conform to the Alaska Native Inupiaq culture. Operating on the premise that youth seek support and guidance first from their friends when they have problems, the program identifies young people (mostly high school students) who are respected and trusted by their peers, and trains them to be effective supports and role models in their school and village communities. In addition, two students from each school site are elected by their school’s youth leaders to be team captains and receive additional training in Native and western leadership principals, group dynamics, and leadership and other relevant skills (e.g., interpersonal communication). These captains have great influence on the direction of the Teck John Baker Youth Leaders Program and are sought after by the school district administration when student policies are being developed and reviewed.

At the beginning of the school year, selected students from all 11 villages in the school district travel to the rural hub of Kotzebue for a three-day youth leaders training retreat, which emphasizes culturally-based role-modeling and leadership. The youth leader team captains facilitate many of the sessions at this annual event. Participating students then return to their villages as youth leaders, entrusted to: support their peers; utilize a behavioral intervention with elementary and middle school students who commit minor offenses; share information about substance abuse, violence, bullying, and suicide in their school; and initiate other positive school and village events.

Throughout the year, Teck John Baker Youth Leaders Program teams work with advisors (adult school employees at each site) to implement health promotion and prevention activities that enhance self-efficacy and promote positive identity development. Built on empowerment and developmental theory in an indigenous context, the program focuses on: enhancing youth leaders’ positive cultural and social identities; providing them with knowledge, skills, and authority to affect their school and community (self-efficacy) in positive ways; and intentionally linking them to adult mentors to guide activities and offer ongoing support.