The Character Movement

The Teachers’ Lounge Podcast – Karen Atkinson

Welcome to our 13th episode of The Teachers’ Lounge! Our guest is Karen Atkinson who is a community catalyst encouraging all adults in St. Louis Park, Minnesota to play a role in the healthy development of young people. For more than two decades, she has worked to transform the community based on Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets research. Karen and Sally chat about the positive impact educators and all adults can make in the lives of young people.

The following are some highlights from our conversation. Karen’s responses are paraphrased with direct quotations in quotation marks.

On the mission of Children First:

Even though our organization, Children First, benefits kids, it’s really about adults. Our organization helps adults become really intentional in their actions to support the youth in our community. The goal is to build upon the strengths of our kids.

“We engage people from our entire community, not just youth professionals but also neighbors, people in congregations, senior citizens and young people themselves.” We focus on the positive assets kids already possess and build them up, which helps decrease negative behavior.

“There are 8,000 young people in St. Louis Park who are under the age of 18 and there are 40 developmental assets. We’re not asking one person to address all 8,000 young people and all 40 developmental assets.” It’s about finding your place in the community, thinking about the young people you already interact with and deciding which assets make the most sense for you to focus on.

On what draws her to this work:

I love bringing people in and helping them understand this concept of the 40 Developmental Assets. People already are helping develop assets in kids every day – especially teachers. We’re asking them to be intentional about it. We cannot buy enough services or legislate enough things – all of us need to step forward and help shape the development of our community’s kids. I firmly believe that. We all have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our young people.

“Kids who have a lot of these assets do better in school, volunteer more in their community and choose to live a healthier lifestyle. [They’re] also less likely to be involved in risky behaviors.”

On the importance of relationships:

When we train people on the assets, we start with this question: Who supported you as a young person? Lots of people talk about their teachers. To me, it’s always about relationships. Generally, it’s the relationships you build that stick with you more than the content itself. Having caring adults and a caring school climate where kids feel safe is crucial. Without that, you can’t move forward.

On the simplicity of asset building:

“Asset building doesn’t need to take a lot of time… It also doesn’t have to cost money. It’s something that all of us can weave into our day.” As long as we’re thoughtful and think about how we can apply the assets in our lives.

Listen to Karen share more stories and further explain the Developmental Assets here. You can also subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

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