By Leslie Rivera
The school year is not over but there already has been a graduating class, of sorts, at Dunbar Elementary. A group of 11 Atlanta Public Schools students, grades three to five, became the first to complete a Toastmasters pilot program in the city of Atlanta. The Youth Leadership Program challenged students to become better communicators, face their fears and deliver a speech in front of a crowd.
“It was a growing process for all of the students that participated. We had some students who are quiet and soft spoken who really came out of their shells. Now they hold their heads up and speak in front of large groups of people. I think it built confidence,” explained Martina Jackson, director of the Dunbar Elementary After School program. She is also an APS academic coach for Science and Social Studies.
Students began meeting weekly in October. During their time together, they review public speaking skills, practice, learn how to use rubrics, and judge their peers’ speaking abilities.
The experience was transformative. Ms. Jackson recalls one fourth grader who wanted to quit in the beginning. She was later chosen to become president of the group and revealed in her final presentation how the Toastmasters program helped her.
Participants were given two to three minutes to present a final speech on a topic of their choice. While they didn’t have to worry about being graded, they did present to an audience of teachers, parents and Toastmasters professionals. MARTA executive, Yvonne DeBellotte, is one of the facilitators of the program. She holds Advanced Leadership Bronze and Competent Leader Certifications in the program.
DeBellotte found the students in the program to truly understand the motto of “excellence”.
“The teamwork these students displayed throughout the program in order to accomplish the goals of their Youth Leadership Program was very impressive to everyone who came in contact with them, and I am very proud of what they have achieved and will continue to achieve,” said DeBellotte.
Toastmasters has long been dedicated to helping working professionals develop and improve their presentation skills but it’s clear to DeBellotte that students as young as 9 years old can benefit, “This is the best age to start a program similar to this one. The Curriculum goals: Listening skills, organizational skills, grammar, and reasoning are essential for students. The main ingredient is the team building they learned early on instead of learning alone,” she adds.
In addition to achieving personal success, the Dunbar students also received a gift at graduation. A campaign on Donorschoose.org raised enough funds for tablets for each student. “We want to keep it going so they received tablets in order to Skype and communicate with Toastmasters in high school,” explained Ms. Jackson. The goal is to help those students develop mentor/mentee relationships, however, it doesn’t end there. Ms. Jackson is already looking forward to gathering a new group of aspiring presenters. She’s so excited to share the experience, and she hopes to start a new group before the end of this school year.