Adam Jagiello-Rusilowski

Ashoka Fellow

Citation

This profile was prepared when Adam Jagiello-Rusilowski was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004.
The New Idea
With limited resources, schools and other state institutions serving youth have largely been unable to constructively engage severely troubled preteens and teens, and those at risk. Seeing a need, Adam launched a program that harnesses the enormous attraction of performance media (e.g. theater, radio, and television) to engage at-risk kids in a multifaceted program to transform their lives. Using theater, radio, and television as a means, not an end, the program Adam developed, piloted at the Wybrezezk Theater in Education Association (WTA) in Gdansk, offers at-risk youth a chance to explore and develop their own skills, talents, and abilities through workshops, individual and group exercises, and youth-led productions and performances on socially topical material.

The WTA model Adam developed brings together both troubled youth from underprivileged backgrounds with youth from more privileged circumstances, often without the same history of social problems. This blending of kids from diverse backgrounds and with diverse needs, upends a troubling trend in Poland, where the increasingly stratified educational establishment tracks children by social class and economic means.

School systems and other government agencies serving youth have begun to rely on the Wybrezezk Theater in Education Association and many of its affiliated organizations to assist their most troubled students. Working within and parallel to many of these state institutions, WTA engages many of the most troubled teens. One of the keys of the WTA model’s success is that all participation is voluntary. The reputation of the program, built by word of mouth and developed by WTA’s substantial programs, as well as access to leading media figures, youth celebrities, etc., has made it an attractive option to alienated youth, as well as their less troubled peers, who have sought out the program because of its reputation as a leading training and performance institution.

Individual choice and student initiative are the dominant elements of the approach, features that are largely lacking in the young people’s lives at either home or school. Once enrolled at the WTA site, youth are immersed in workshops, trainings, and exercises, which are designed to build trust, help young people focus, and to foster cooperation—skills and abilities that are largely lacking when they enter the program. The participants quickly learn to function in teams, be responsible to others, and assume leadership positions. At WTA’s core site in Gdansk, all participants become engaged in the development and execution of over 60 productions each year, focused on socially relevant issues and run entirely by students. These theater and radio productions travel to schools and correctional facilities, and are available on public broadcast. Built into the program are incentives for continued participation and growing leadership among the young people.

For many of the at-risk youth participating in the program, it is the first time they have been treated as responsible individuals. While their schools lack the funding to provide much beyond basic educational instruction, the WTA program immerses them in a professional environment with diverse resources, allowing them to exercise their own interests and talents in a broad array of creative and professional areas. The program provides exposure to numerous partner institutions (including schools, local businesses, broadcast media companies, and public relations firms) that is invaluable as they plan for their lives after secondary school. The results of the program are telling, with over 75 percent of the participants going on to university (a far higher percentage than their peers in Polish schools). Additionally, many graduates of the program go on to jobs in media-related enterprises or launch small businesses of their own.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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