The First Step

P.S.1's changing course leaves some people wondering what direction the charter school is taking.

"For everyone involved with CYAR, I am putting together an introduction to Landmark next Thursday. It will probably last from 6:00 to 9:00 or 9:30 and will be at the main space at P.S.1. It is free, so all you need to bring is yourselves and anyone else you think might benefit from the material."

Norvelle responded with an e-mail that same day: "While it is true that a few staff and other mentors have participated in a Landmark program, they are two very separate organizations with different purposes and philosophies...There are conversations within the Landmark program that have inspired some of the conversations within CYAR, but even these were modified to fit our purpose and the unique needs of our clientele -- at-risk youth."

Landmark officials claim to know nothing about Colorado Youth at Risk. In fact, Landmark has its own seminars for kids; in June, the company is holding the Landmark Forum for Young People in Denver.

But Norvelle admits that both she and her husband have attended Landmark training and that her husband, who directed the two P.S.1 Steps Ahead launch courses, used to be a volunteer Landmark Education seminar leader. However, she says, neither of them has attended anything Landmark-related for three years.

Luke Shamala, CYAR's program director, has. Shamala, who taught high school in his native Kenya before moving to the United States eight years ago, attended the Forum in December. An Atlanta Youth at Risk volunteer, Shamala moved to Denver in 1995 to study at the University of Denver and the Iliff School of Theology. He also took a job with Youthtrack, an organization that works with kids who've had brushes with the law. After working there for four years, he answered an ad for the CYAR job.

Shamala wanted to go to the Forum after attending the first Steps Ahead retreat. "I thought the [Steps Ahead] launch course was a powerful experience. I was curious about experiencing that myself, and Glenna [Norvelle] said that if I wanted to develop leadership skills, Landmark Education might be a good avenue for me. So I called Landmark and asked about their program, and it seemed to be something good in terms of personal growth and leadership. I took the initiative to call Landmark myself; it was not anything that was imposed on me, and I'd do it again if I had the chance," he says. Shamala paid half the course fee, and CYAR paid the rest.

"I was intrigued by the notion that you can't move ahead if you haven't forgiven your past," he says. "For me, it was quite a powerful experience, but it was very different from what goes on in Colorado Youth at Risk. The two programs are similar to the extent that the experiences are transformative, but they are structured differently and they have a different curriculum."

Shamala also teaches an elective course at P.S.1 called "Who Am I?" Since he started the class last fall, 37 students -- including kids who are not in Steps Ahead -- have taken it. In the class, which he says the students named themselves, "we do self-expression through poetry, we have a martial artist come in twice a week, and we watch movies that kids can derive lessons from. The kids also use pictures or music to express their life stories."

While Norvelle acknowledges that about 25 percent of the Steps Ahead program is derived from Landmark, she says it also borrows from other personal-growth philosophies, including those advanced by educational theorist Carl Rogers and Virginia Satir, a renowned family therapist whose communication exercises are used. At the retreat, kids also play several team-building and self-esteem-enhancing games that P.S.1 principal Myers invented.

Norvelle says CYAR distanced itself from the Breakthrough Foundation because that organization did not allow for change. "We didn't want to be limited to a concrete model. We wanted the flexibility to bring in different approaches and disciplines, so we started relying less and less on the Breakthrough Foundation," she says, adding that the organization dissolved a few years ago. "Plus, it was very expensive, because we had to use their youth trainers."

CYAR, which currently has two full-time employees, Norvelle and Shamala, and several volunteer mentors, operated for several years out of an office at 899 Logan Street, but the rent was increasing and Norvelle didn't like the office space. So when a member of CYAR's board of directors attended a meeting of the Golden Triangle Neighborhood Association two years ago and heard Rex Brown mention that he wanted to rent school space to a community group, Norvelle jumped at the opportunity. CYAR moved into the school in October 1998 but didn't establish the P.S.1 Steps Ahead program until the following fall. (The organization pays $292.50 in rent to the school each month.)

"We realized we might have a program that they'd be interested in, and they were. I'm thrilled with the partnership, because when we're right there and can go in and talk to staff, it makes a tremendous difference," says Norvelle, who plans to evaluate P.S.1's Steps Ahead program upon its one-year anniversary this fall.

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