Y.D.O. Programs Offer Ukelele, Sign Language, and More to Young Kids

Twice a week, buses with colorful Y.D.O. logos rumble up Main Street onto the Andover campus. As kids from Lawrence step off the bus, they fill up classrooms to participate in Youth Development Organization (Y.D.O.) programs.

For more than a decade, Andover students have partnered with Y.D.O., a nonprofit based in Lawrence, to give underserved elementary students from the area opportunities to participate in programs that focus on STEM subjects and in the arts, according to the Y.D.O. website.

Ranging from Ukelele to Math in the Real World, the programs offered at Andover span a variety of topics.

Andover currently hosts nine Y.D.O. programs: Writing, Ukulele, Sign Language, Math, Math in the Real World, Speech and Debate, Art, Singing, and Chinese. Sessions are held every Wednesday in Elson Arts Center and every Thursday in Samuel Phillips Hall.

Andover students coordinate these various Y.D.O. programs each week.

Mariana Kovalik Silva ’20, student coordinator of Y.D.O. Ukulele, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “As the coordinator, I plan the lessons for the entire year. During the Y.D.O. sessions, I lead the activities and I try to engage all the volunteers and kids.”

Kovalik Silva continued, “I want to give the kids a fun and interesting introduction to music. However, learning an instrument can also be frustrating, so I want them to learn persistence and determination.”

Andover students work closely with the students in their programs. According to Y.D.O.’s website, besides nurturing the elementary school students’ curiosities, Andover’s Y.D.O. programs also focus on fostering a strong sense of community among participants. In the spirit of building close interpersonal relationships, volunteers work in small groups and, on occasion, one-on-one with their students.

Erica Nam ’19, student coordinator of Y.D.O. Writing, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “My favorite memory from Y.D.O. is actually my very first session. There was one girl in my class who was very reluctant throughout the program, and I wondered why. I reached out to her first by initiating a conversation while others engaged in already planned activities. She said that she was punished by her math teacher, which was why she was in a bad mood. Afterwards, we spent the time talking and sharing our hobbies and dreams, which I found very meaningful.”

Y.D.O. coordinators, in addition to planning their program, help manage the kids during the classes and make sure everything runs smoothly.

Kovalik Silva wrote, “[During last week’s session], all the kids were running around, and I thought it would be impossible to sit them down and teach them [how to play] the ukulele. But, as soon as we took the instruments out, they were genuinely interested in learning and gave it their full attention. Then, all my worries were gone, and I was sure Y.D.O. Ukulele would be a great program.”

Although Andover students are primarily responsible for coordinating programs, Emilie Cliquet Hughes, Community Engagement Program Assistant, and Monique Cueto-Potts, Director of Community Engagement, provide their support by attending all Y.D.O. sessions and communicating with Y.D.O. staff, including Mark Kampert, the Executive Director of YDO.

Cueto-Potts wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “The [Andover] students learn about what it means to commit to and be fully present with a community partner, and they are great mentors and role models for the Y.D.O. students. I see first-hand every week how the Y.D.O. students re-energize the [Andover] students, and watching the trusting relationships that form over time between the Y.D.O. students and the [Andover] students is also enjoyable.”

Applications to start a Y.D.O. program begin in January of each year, according to Cueto-Potts. Any Andover student who wants to start their own program submits a proposal, which is then considered by the organization’s office in Lawrence.

Kampert reads through all of the applications and decides which programs would be best for the Y.D.O. program at Andover. The programs change from year to year based on interest, although Y.D.O. continues to be a popular choice for Community Engagement at Andover.

Nam wrote, “I try to maintain the very attitude I have while participating in Y.D.O. during the regular school time: eager to help others and Non Sibi. [As for the kids I work with], I hope to teach them how fun writing can be. I hope they will pursue writing as not only what they do at school but as a hobby that can relieve their stress.”