Representing Educated Active Leaders Having A Righteous Dream (REAL HARD) Youth Leadership Program is an after-school youth leadership program that provides training for 60 youth from four high schools, Oakland Technical High School, Castlemont High School, Oakland High School, and Fremont High School. They meet twice weekly to develop the research, facilitation, base-building, and critical thinking skills needed to identify problems in their school community, and to develop and advance solutions to those problems. REAL HARD is focused on shifting school culture from punitive to restorative by expanding leadership roles for students to become culture drivers, implement shared values, and create respectful learning spaces.
Initiated by youth organizers in 2001, REAL HARD students are in a multi-year campaign to create culture change in the school and classroom by developing school-wide values and implementing and institutionalizing a Code of Respect with teachers and students. At three schools, 60 REAL HARD youth institutionalized a Code of Respect as an alternative to punitive discipline by engaging 3,835 peers to establish shared values that establish supportive and engaged learning environments. As a result, REAL HARD led professional development for 100% of administration and teachers. Four classes piloted Code practices with a decrease in disruptions and increase in youth leadership roles. Eighty-nine percent of students reported, “The culture of class felt more respectful.” Eighty-three percent reported “I am doing better academically since the Code was introduced.”
The Code 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. All three schools have approved the Code as a matter of school policy over the past 2 years. Now, our campaign is focused on full implementation of the student-created Code of Respect policy by engaging a base of students in upholding the shared values, promoting best teacher practices and stemming harmful practices that undermine the values and lead to student marginalization and disengagement.