Mission and Focus: Rhode Island Teen Institute (RITI) is a statewide leadership and prevention program that targets high school-aged peer leaders, whether traditional or nontraditional, from a broad range of community settings, training them in individual and community advocacy, decision-making, and interpersonal and leadership skill development. RITI reinforces leaders’ commitment to a healthy lifestyle and organizes their peers to advocate for prevention in their communities. Teen Institute does not seek to establish Teen Institute groups in schools and communities, but encourages participants to join existing youth groups focused on health and substance abuse prevention issues facing youth.
How It Works: RITI’s high school residential training component is five days. Participants are recruited in groups of three to eight from school or community sites across Rhode Island. The training component focuses on personal skill-building in the following areas:
- conflict resolution
- problem solving
- decision making
- assessing high-risk behavior
- community action planning
Family Groups: Composed of youth from various communities, family group members relate to one another while processing the day’s activities. Groups are co-facilitated by Youth Staff, peers who have graduated from RITI*, and Adult Staff, most of whom are Teen Institute graduates and former Youth Staff. (*After a 12-year hiatus from RITI, Youth Staff for the June 2022 TI, are chosen from other youth programs.) This mentoring tree is integral to program success.
Action Group: Adventure-based, experiential teaching is the other integral training feature, which “allows participants to make connections between their own lives and what they are learning. As a result, the learning will have more meaning and … can be reflected on and have relevance to the future life of participants.” (Wurdinger, 1996, p.60) Following three days of team-building and effective communication challenges, each school/community group completes a written Action Plan addressing health or social issues facing youth.
Demographic Profile: RITI draws participants across cultures and classes from the core cities to the suburbs. Typically, our participant base is 45% male, 40-55% come from core cities, and 63% come from minority populations. The staff is a direct reflection of the participant base.
Outcomes: Teen Institute participants complete pre-, post-, and follow-up tests measuring individual skill development, assessment of high-risk behavior, identification of positive alternatives to alcohol and other drug use, and identification to school and community. Positive evaluation results mean Teen Institute graduates:
- Participate/lead in peer educator groups
- Organize community events
- Complete community Action Plans
- Mentor peers in prevention activities
- Staff Teen Institute
- Participate in statewide prevention efforts
- Establish youth components to community task forces
Learn more about RITI’s Youth Development in Practice here.
Coming soon: Planning is underway to hold a RI Teen Institute conference in the summer of 2023.
Contact Program Coordinator Jen Stevens (RITeenInstitute@gmail.com/401.499.9753) for more information, and for applications to attend or staff RI Teen Institute.