Representing Educated Active Leaders Having A Righteous Dream (REAL HARD) Youth Leadership Program is a stipended after school leadership development and youth organizing program that engages 60 student leaders, grades 9-12, at Castlemont, Fremont, Oakland High, and Oakland Technical High School.

REAL HARD’s vision is to center youth voice, agency, and decision-making power through organizing around students’ own educational experiences. The goals of the program are to build power for young people and to create more equitable and inclusive school cultures for low-income, youth of color in Oakland public high schools.

Youth participate after school twice a week and engage thousands of their peers and teachers in community organizing and school culture change efforts through events held during school, after school and on weekends that increase educational equity and improve the culture and climate on campus. REAL HARD focuses on shifting school culture from punitive to restorative by expanding leadership roles for students to become culture drivers, by implementing shared Code of Respect values, and creating respectful learning spaces.

Initiated by youth organizer research in 2001 on the impact of school culture and climate on academic outcomes, the REAL HARD program has been engaged in a multi-year campaign to create positive culture change in schools and classrooms. REAL HARD youth leaders have developed school-wide values, implemented and are now institutionalizing a Code of Respect with teachers, students, administrators and staff. The Code of Respect is a youth-friendly set of cultural expectations featuring declarative language about the type of classroom culture students and teachers would like to uphold that is co-developed by students and teachers.

REAL HARD campaigns focus on full implementation of the student-created Code of Respect policy by engaging a base of students in upholding the shared values, promoting best practices with teachers in classrooms, aligning cultural currency and school store incentives to the code, and stemming harmful practices that undermine the values or lead to student marginalization and disengagement. Each year, over 100 teachers and 1,400 students engage in a cultural economy that REAL HARD leaders developed to recognize students upholding positive school culture.

Youth-led efforts implementing a Code of Respect school-wide have led to increased safety, inclusion, peer support, respect, and engagement at their schools. Where REAL HARD has implemented a Code of Respect, high schools have improved academic outcomes, and have made progress transforming school culture and climate to be more inclusive and restorative. Through the program, youth leaders develop skills in communication, critical thinking, public speaking, event planning, youth participatory action research, and campaign implementation.

To learn more about the program or inquire about how to get involved with REAL HARD, contact the Program Manager: Peter Truong at Peter@kidsfirstoakland.org.

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