Encouraging kids to make positive life decisions

Calgary's YouthLink facility performs essential work in creating a safer, healthier community

Noticing bruises on his mother’s arms, a 14-year-old boy works up the courage to ask what happened. His mother says she hurt herself while moving boxes, but he doesn’t believe it. He heard his parents arguing the night before.

The conversation is playing out on two television screens set up at either end of a long table—the mother on one screen, the son on the other—with a group of Grade 6 students sitting at the table, observing the exchange. When the conversation ends, they’ll use tablets to respond to questions about the scene, and a facilitator will lead them through a discussion: Was there an unhealthy relationship depicted? What would you do if you were the son? What would you do if you were the son’s friend?

The scenario is one of 20 that make up an experiential learning exhibit on healthy relationships at the YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre, a facility designed to help kids make positive decisions around five areas: healthy relationships, bullying, gangs, substance abuse, and online safety.

“The students get some kind of major experience in each area, and then we debrief the experience,” says Kevin Waites, YouthLink’s director of development and technology. “A big piece for all of the areas is getting the kids resources. It’s not just about identifying unhealthy and healthy relationships—it’s knowing what to do if you find yourself in one.”

Originally located in the downtown core, YouthLink re-opened at the end of September in a re-purposed facility at the Calgary Police Service’s headquarters in northeast Calgary. The new center includes 110 screens, from tablet-sized tools to a 20-foot-long touchscreen wall.

“Normally when you build a museum, you build exhibits around the artefacts,” Waites explains. “We built the exhibits around learning objectives and lesson plans.”

The exhibits, which include a forensics area, incorporate the learning objectives of the Grade 6 Alberta education curriculum, making it a popular field trip for students—the entire 2015-16 year is booked, and a waitlist is being taken for 2016-17.

The Healthy Relationships exhibit—sponsored by Enbridge, as part of a five-year, $1-million partnership with the Calgary Police Foundation—has undergone major expansions. Teachers can now choose scenarios depicting sibling rivalry, forced marriage, dating violence, domestic abuse, exclusion of friends, or bullying—whatever they feel would most benefit their students.

“The new YouthLink Centre is a captivating facility, and its staff perform incredible work in helping kids make positive life decisions,” says Al Monaco, President and CEO of Enbridge. “We’re proud to support the Calgary Police Foundation as it performs essential work in creating a safer, healthier community.”

YouthLink is open to the public two days a week, and is offering free admission for the first six months in its new space.

“We built this place to teach kids,” Waites says. “And the kids love it.”