Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
At twelve years of age, Shrishti Kshi already knows her own mind. A home-schooled student, she is participating in ‘3D Public Speaking for Youth’ at the Irving Valley Ranch Library this summer.
“I have to develop the skill of public speaking,” Shrishti said. “This year I’m joining a debate club, so this will be good practice for me.
“I like giving speeches. You stand in front of the room, and there’s only you, and you speak out.
“This is only my second class, but already I’ve learned not to rock but to stand still. To be more confident, to speak loudly, and to look right at the people you’re addressing.
“It’s very moving when someone can step on stage and speak confidently. They can almost make you cry.”
For Shristi’s teacher, Coretta Turner, it’s a joy to lead children on this journey of confidence.
“Our children have their own voices and their own stories to tell,” she said. “Too often, a parent will fall into the habit of speaking up for the child. There’s a muting of children going on.
“You risk losing a future ambassador or advocate when you shut them down that way.
“The goal here is that each child would be more confident speaking up when the child decides to. I want to hear their story.
“They will need to learn how to express themselves while relating to others. If they spend all their time texting but not interacting – that’s not a road to success. That won’t get them a job.”
On this day, students have each been told to introduce themselves, speaking for only a minute. Chairs in the classroom are set in a ‘U’ configuration with approximately 15 students, aged 10 – 16, facing either the teacher or the speaker of the moment. At the back of the room, an assistant videotapes each young person.
For each speaker, the presentation begins the same way - by sharing a firm handshake with the teacher. And as each student speaks, Turner takes notes. “Thank you for going first,” she told one participant. “How did you feel about that? Do you have some ideas for making it better?”
For another participant, Turner praised her animation and promised her they would learn together how to use gestures more effectively.
Yet another heard that he needed to slow down (a frequent observation) and speak out more loudly.
Turner would often ask fellow students to offer observations about the speaker. Sharp-eyed peers noticed pockets in hands or a lack of eye contact, with the reassurance from Turner that “we all have something to learn –and something to teach.”
While it’s traditional for Irving libraries to offer free classes each summer, this particular venture is new for the City, according to Marianne Follis, Youth Services Librarian for the Valley Ranch Library.
“Our City Manager, Tommy Gonzalez, is passionate about leadership skills. The City is making a conscientious effort to help our students gain confidence.
“This is the first offering in our Success Zone workshop series, loosely based on Stephen Covey’s ‘The Leader in Me’, and the materials developed by his son, Sean Covey. We have a collection of those materials here – picture books, non-fiction books for children and young adults, and even pieces for parents.
“We’re the first library to have the program, but this is a multi-pronged approach. We’re also working with the Rec Center, where they’re using some of the same leadership tools in their after school programs.
“We hope to branch out into the school districts, too.”
Evaluation of the program’s success will come through satisfaction surveys with parents and with students. As the library gains its own confidence in this first outreach, they will roll out additional Success Zone pieces.
But one parent has already made up her mind.
“I think that it’s wonderful that the library offers classes like this during the summer,” said Shristi’s mother, Neena Kshi. “It gives students a chance to try out something, and if they’re truly interested, they can pursue it further.
“The library is nearby and very convenient for us, so this is fabulous.”