Campus News

Social Work researcher, students lead summit on youth leadership

Area high school students participated in the annual Challenge 2 Change summit.

Local high school students took part in the annual Challenge 2 Change, hosted by the Sweet Home Central School District. Photo: Dylan Buyskes, Onion Studio

By BERT GAMBINI

Published December 3, 2019

“We have an opportunity to build awareness of the value of conversations about these issues, and to prepare high school students for these discussions as a means of creating change in their own schools.”
Annahita Ball, assistant professor
School of Social Work

More than 200 high school youths had an opportunity to become thoughtful leaders in the areas of racial understanding and social justice at the annual Challenge 2 Change, held Nov. 21 at Banchetti by Rizzo.

The summit, hosted by the Sweet Home Central School District, was co-led by Annahita Ball, assistant professor in the School of Social Work (SSW), who worked with several local school districts to develop the summit. Graduate student volunteers in the SSW facilitated small group dialogue with the high school students on matters of diversity, privilege and oppression.

Graduate student volunteers in the SSW facilitated small group dialogue with the high school students on matters of diversity, privilege and oppression.

Graduate student volunteers from the School of Social Work facilitated small group dialogue with the high school students on the issues of diversity, privilege and oppression. Photo: Dylan Buyskes, Onion Studio

Challenge 2 Change in WNY began in 2014, modeled after a similar youth program in Missouri that developed as a response to the civil unrest that emerged in Ferguson, Missouri. The objective was to provide high school students with a forum to express their feelings and concerns. Based on intergroup dialogue, Challenge2Change has been a successful vehicle for high school students to responsibly and respectfully discuss difficult issues in an emotionally safe environment.

“We have an opportunity to build awareness of the value of conversations about these issues, and to prepare high school students for these discussions as a means of creating change in their own schools,” Ball says.

But the lessons gained from Challenge 2 Change are mutually beneficial to both the high school participants and the graduate school facilitators in the SSW.

XX speaking with local high school students during the Challenge 2 Change summit.

Edreys Wajed, a local artist, educator and musician, talks about a "live" painting he created with student attendees at the Challenge 2 Change summit. Photo: Dylan Buyskes, Onion Studio

“We’re trying to create learning opportunities for our graduate students rooted in the context of social work practice,” she says. “Programs like Challenge 2 Change allow our graduate students to apply what they’re learning in the classroom to an actual community setting. This valuable experience teaches them how to be flexible and adapt to their current context so they’re better prepared when it’s time for them to enter the work force.”

Ball’s involvement with Challenge 2 Change began when the administrators and staff in the Amherst Central School District approached her on how to build programing centered on diversity.

“Challenge 2 Change is a perfect fit for me,” she says. “It speaks to my passion for inclusive learning environments and is a great opportunity for area high school students and students in the School of Social Work.”