Friday, May 20 2022

Samantha Richter, 16, a final year student at Edgemont High School, still vividly remembers trying out Model UN, an academic activity in which students act as members of the United Nations. Although Richter participated in her school debate, “I didn’t feel very confident in my public speaking skills because I had little time to prepare,” she recalls.

Today Richter and his classmate Isha Bahadur, 16, also a rising senior, launched an initiative to help other young people learn to speak with confidence. Together, they founded the Youth Public Speaking Association (YPSA), a student-run organization committed to teaching young people the basics of public speaking. The fully remote program, which is free, launched earlier this month.

The girls first conceived the idea for YPSA after connecting through a Model UN event with peers from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South in New Jersey. These students had started a similar initiative in their own region, with excellent results. “We were able to attend one of their classes, and we had our cameras on and we were listening, seeing how the tutors were interacting with the students,” said Bahadur, director of logistics for the program. “We did not acquire their course, but we were able to draw inspiration from it.

Richter and Bahadur enlisted a friend and classmate, Anisha Rao, to design the bulk of the YPSA curriculum, which was written in April and May. “Anisha had organized a public speaking camp and had some great ideas – fun games to create laughter through the activities,” Richter said.

Then comes the recruitment of students. “A big way we’ve done this has been through Facebook; a lot of moms groups have done a good job spreading the word, ”Bahadur said. “We also posted on Nextdoor and then Sammy and one of the other guardians were able to place flyers in different parts of Hartsdale and Scarsdale Village.”

Word of mouth also helped: “We reached out to people we know personally, and I have a younger brother, so I told his friends about it,” Bahadur said.

Richter even courted the support of Paul Feiner, the overseer of the city of Greenburgh. In early June, she met him and his board and gave an overview of the program and its goals. Subsequently, Greenburgh advertised YPSA on his city’s website and Facebook page.

The response has been tremendous. “We had a lot more registrations than we thought,” said Bahadur – around 65 in total, including many from Edgemont and Scarsdale and neighboring towns, as well as a few foreigners. Seeking to provide age-specific education, the girls divided the students into two age groups, 7-10 and 11-14.

The YPSA also offers several courses: there are three six-week programs that meet on Wednesdays, and next week (starting July 19) the organization will also be launching a four-day crash course for students who cannot not engage in longer teaching. period.

Two tutors give a one hour lesson. The teachers are fellow students who have been recruited by Richter and Bahadur and who give generously of their time. “We’re trying to keep the tutor-to-student ratio at around one to seven,” Richter said.

They also try to keep the lessons fun. “One main thing we wanted to focus on was making sure it doesn’t look like a school, because no child wants to go to school in the summer,” Bahadur said. “We wanted to incorporate fun ways of public speaking through exciting and rewarding activities to do. “

When Bahadur sat down as a tutor in a class, “We asked the students to come up with a topic they are passionate about, and then come up with a 30 second talk about it. [We told them] it could be video games, and a few of them have talked about Roblox and Minecraft, or books they liked. And so we make sure that they can incorporate things that they like, and we don’t just force them to talk about topics that are very serious.

The students are already coming out of their shell. “During one of the classes I was sitting in, for the first 10 minutes, the tutor was really asking the kids to share sentences and had to get a lot out of them,” Richter recalls. “But when they realized that they could talk about what they were passionate about, and if they could share their own interests by speaking in public, then they volunteered.”

Some children, in fact, could barely contain themselves, with one excited student speaking for a minute and a half without preparation. “We had to extend some activities because they wanted to talk longer,” Richter said. “It was just super exciting to watch, because when you see a kid who gets turned on by their own confidence in public speaking, that’s exactly the point of what we’re trying to do.”

The mothers and fathers of the students are also delighted with the effectiveness of the program. “We received three emails from parents saying their kids enjoyed their class,” Richter explained. “It’s been going very well so far.

She and Bahadur plan to extend the program until the school year and add more offerings to the program. They also aim to recruit speakers from community figures, such as New York State Assembly Chief Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“My hope [for YPSA’s students] is that these kids will see that they are not only able to speak in public, but that they are good at public speaking, and that is a skill that you can develop and work on, ”Richter said. “I think allowing children to see this as something that they shouldn’t be afraid of, but rather as something to be hoped for and to be excited about, is doable.”

Bahadur added, “Public speaking doesn’t have to be presentations. It doesn’t have to be a United Nations model or a debate. I can just participate in class… I just hope it helps the kids too. Without a doubt, the lucky students under YPSA’s tutelage are already finding their voice.

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