So now it’s over. Or is it?

I had such a hard time trying to “summarize” my CKP experience. Creating and managing the Creative Kid Project has influenced me in so many ways that any “final report” seems unlikely to do it justice. Thanks to CKP, I have gained so many valuable lessons and meaningful friendships, overcome much skepticism and fear (about my own ability as well as the feasibility of such a social endeavor) and reassured my passion and future vision. I hope this overly simplistic attempt to summarize CKP can give readers a glimpse into what had been the most awesome 3 months of my life.

1. On an ideological level, CKP turned out to be a “contagious” idea that inspires and relates. The amount of positive feedback and support that we receive from multiple levels was tremendous and reassuring. Within less than 3 months, we managed to attract a total number of almost 200 applications (from volunteers and middle-schoolers), 5 funding sources totaling almost $2000 dollars (not including the fully-sponsored closing ceremony), 3 offers for next year (one from a different city) and even national media coverage! Hopefully, we will be able to keep up with the momentum next year and expand CKP into a longer and broader program.

The bottom line: sometimes, what it takes to start a program like this is a simple idea and someone to tell you to go for it. My idea was 1.“Kids are creative by nature, but they need to realize that they can create change and be taken seriously by adults in order to fully develop this innate capacity” and 2.“Kids spend most of their time in school but they hardly have chance to exert any control over it”. And Evan told me probably the most simple powerful words I’ve learned: “Why not?”

2. But of course, in order to turn such an idea into a realistic and tangible program, it takes more than just the ones with abstract minds. On a managerial level, CKP went through a lot of logistical challenges, especially during the preparation stage. Things only started to fall into place with the help of my team, above all our co-managers Trang and Suong, whom I could not thank enough for the hours of hard work (read: sleeplessness) and level of commitment they have put into the project. Their contribution is pivotal to CKP success: it epitomizes the power of the first followers (one of CKP’s most favorite lessons) and the underestimated form of true leadership.

Next is of course, my Big Team — the 14 dedicated and talented volunteers, some of whom have way out-fulfilled their supposed responsibilities. Although we originally divided our teams into 4 divisions (Facilitators or Project-Content, Media & Publicity, Finance & Logistics, and Design); this division of tasks is suggestive at best and unnecessary at worst for the most active members. Unsurprisingly, the ones who contribute the most to the project are also flexible and creative enough (a la CKP-spirit) to multitask and work across these “divisions”. More than just simply completing assigned tasks, they initiate new tasks, take ownership on the project and even challenge the “authority”. As a manager, I learned to trust my judgment in matching potentials and tasks but also to listen to others and balance “rules” with “flexibility”. Much of our initial conception of the content has been greatly modified and thus improved thanks to these people.

Although these 14 people are selected through a quite rigorous multi-round application process including interviews; I believe the secret to what makes a great team is our emphasis on feedback, deliberation and self-reflection. From the very start, we have used this process as a medium to communicate, co-learn and improve. A lot of our important decisions (such as the decision to completely change the content of Day 3 — Day to inspire) were made thanks to constructive criticism during daily feedback . The one thing I would encourage even more next time is interpersonal feedback (besides group self-reflection).

3. On a substantive level, CKP content was quite coherent, well-connected and relevant (although there is still a lot of room for improvement) Having attended and learned from many similar programs before CKP, we decided to focus the most on “goals” and “flow” in the process of drafting the various versions of CKP Daily Schedule. Each day of CKP was introduced as a different step of the problem-solving process which the kids could apply in building their final project, namely brainstorming, working in team, finding inspiration, breaking down solutions and presenting. While some activities are introduced for their intrinsic values (fun, helpful, informative), most were very carefully designed so as to best highlight the theme of that day, connect with the overarching spirit of the project and position well in adjuction with other activities. In fact, at the end CKP, the kids were required to make a “flow chart” of what they’ve learned throughout the project, as a way to connect everything that they have learned in a tangible, holistic and graphic representation..

Additionally, we never stop asking “why”. In planning different components of the program, everyone is expected to have a thorough understanding of the purpose of each activity at the same time not lose sight of the bigger picture. One of the deliberations that I enjoyed the most was the one 1 week before the project, when we all sat down and spent 1 hour to each answer the questions: why did you join CKP in the first place? What made you think that this project is worthwhile? The real goal of the project, we believe, should not get lost in hundreds of small tasks and logistical problems we had to deal with.

4. On an educational level, we try to make CKP as kid-centered as possible by encouraging unbounded creativity and maximizing individual participation. The first thing I told the kids on the first day was: “This is not your typical classroom. There is no chair, no table, not even any instructor (only facilitators). This is your platform, where we expect you to take ownership of and get as creative and crazy as you can”. Most of our “finalized” schedule was made flexible enough so that it could be changed as needed if the kids don’t end up benefiting the most from it. For example, after day 2, we decided to reshuffle the kids from school-based to interest-based project groups. Although the original intention was to help them work in a realistic project that improves their own school, we realized that working with friends from the same school actually hinders “thinking outside of the box”, which has always been our first priority.

We also try to maximize kids’ participation through small-group activities, customized workshops and of course, final projects. The facilitators help encourage kids’ ideas; but ultimately, it’s the kids who figure the “skills”, knowledge and project ideas themselves, with very minimum level of external imposition or requirements.

And much to our pleasure, the kids totally LOVED IT. 90% of them repeatedly mention in the feedback survey that “ The program needs to lasts longer”.

5. And lastly, with regards to sustainability and impact, I can say that we have been successful in fostering kids’ personal and interpersonal development and having some initial positive social impact.

After the program, the kids demonstrated many visible changes, including (but not exclusive to) more confidence in public speaking, better communication and especially more critical-thinking. Most of the guests that we invited to the kids’ presentation on the last day (including parents, head masters, teachers and administrators) were pleasantly surprised at the kids’ confidence and charisma. Many parents in the feedback forms have indicated noticeable changes in their kids, especially in the way they approach adults. We’d like to think of that as a direct influence of our attempt to encourage the kids to be more outspoken when communicating ideas with “authority figure” (adults).

We also hope that the impact of our program doesn’t stop when CKP ends. During the interview process, we tried to choose a variety of different personalities and potentials, making sure to balance the out-going, bright type with the quiet, full of potential type. While most kids in the former group become even brighter after CKP, it’s the latter ones that benefit the most from participating in CKP. Hopefully, CKP will be one of the most memorable summers in these kids’ early life, the experience from which could follow them in their future path and indirectly motivate them to venture out to even more programs and hopefully utilize the knowledge and skills gained from it. Although CKP officially ended on August 4th, the friendships they have made during the program follow through, and we have had multiple “reunions” ever since. I hope that the excitement and sense of connection be strong enough for them to want to do better and bigger things in life. The one thing I would love to change, however, is to diversify our applicants’ pool more, because it turns out that most kids who have access to the information about our program tend to come from more well-off families.

From the social impact level, most of the project proposals that they came up with are all feasible project ideas that they could potentially bring to their school administrators. (Whether or not the administrators will look at them or even consider implementing them is an entire different story). The school-building projects themselves as well as the problems these projects are looking to solve are very revealing and close-to-home: they give us an idea of what the students actually care about and what they think would be made better about their school, through their unadulterated innocent and worry-free childrens’ eyes. Among the 5 presentations on the last day, the best one was of the Designers’ Team who came up with a total school-restructuring project that aims to redesign the school facility and structure, ranging from easily implementable initiatives like movable chairs and tables to ambitious steps like graffiti-painting the entire school, or transforming staircases into trampolines and slides. We love the fact that a lot of the project ideas reflect a great combination between creative ideas and realistic goals and logistics.

In conclusion, CKP has been a great learning experience not only for the kids — the program-takers but also for us and the volunteers — the program-creators. We have taught and learned, laughed and cried, worried and relieved, struggled and overcome, worked hard and been rewarded. Most importantly, we truly felt that we have not wasted 3 months of summer and transformed our youthful energy and passion into something meaningful for the children, who will hopefully bring this experience with them as they grow up and know what they want in life. We are proud to say that we have made more than one child say “I will never forget CKP — this has been the most memorable summer of my life and I am definitely going back next year for junior facilitator positions”

So yes, it’s over, for now. Until next year :)


Originally published at www.globalconversation.org on September 24, 2012.

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