CSUN students teach public speaking through Communication Youth Institute

Liana Hofer

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CSUN students from the Communications department are recruiting youth from around the area for the Communication Youth Institute (CYI) program, which starts Oct. 9.

The program prepares 5th to 12th grade students for public speaking by simultaneously allowing undergraduate and graduate students in the class to teach lessons on communication.

The program was started in 1987 by Professor Rebecca Litke.  Litke received her M.A. in Speech Communication at CSUN.

The course was established as a community service-learning program and has continued to this day, she said.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for students in the area to learn public speaking and communication skills, which are becoming increasingly important in the real world,” said professor Hengameh Rabizadeh, CYI Director.  “It’s also a chance for undergraduates to teach and learn through that.”

This is Rabizadeh’s first time directing and teaching the course.  She is taking over for former director, Lisa Thranow, who is on leave in South Korea.

Students enrolled in the class are responsible for bringing young students into the classroom and generally recruit through flyers and word of mouth.  Special focus is paid to elementary schools, churches and youth clubs around the area.

Lindsay Scott, a CSUN teaching associate, is also working with the program for the first time this semester and is optimistic about the goals of the program.

“I am particularly excited about this, because I’m an advocate for youth education,” Scott said.  “With this program, youth have tools for their future.”

Scott said she oversees the recruitment of young students.  She added the classroom of nearly 20 undergrad and grad students blends nicely as one.

“The relationship between undergrads and grads is fairly transparent,” Scott said.  “Everyone works together as a team.”

The first half of the 12-week course consists of the university students being trained to teach youth about public speaking and communication.  The second half of their course is six weeks of teaching 40 young kids, using the instructional tools they have acquired.

When it comes time for the students to teach their students, it is up to them to select a topic, choose lesson content, and how they deliver it to the class, Scott said.  Enrolled students are graded upon how well they present their lesson.

While all lessons must focus on some aspect of public speaking, they range from speech organization, to speech delivery, to anxiety about speaking in public, Scott said.

Essentially, the program is the perfect example of a symbiotic relationship in the classroom, Rabizadeh said. The university students need youth to practice their teaching skills, and the youth need the university students to learn communication skills.

Ben Eliahu, 23, is a graduate student currently in the class who took the class when he was an undergrad.

He said that due to the the high amount of public speaking that is involved, the course is not right for everyone, and can be quite challenging.

“You have to be really comfortable not only talking in front of students, but just talking in general,” Eliahu said.

He added that the class is not typical, and is not one in which students “pretend to be friendly with the person next to them.”  Working together to teach young students acts as a team-building exercise for everyone.

“When the kids come, it makes you feel more comfortable,” he said.  “Your friendships grow because you’re working together.”

The program costs $20, but there are scholarships available.  Those who are interested should contact Rabizadeh.