Launching Youth Through Leadership and Mentorship
December 14, 2021
Launching Youth Through Leadership and Mentorship

We have so many amazing educational leaders in the field and I appreciate that we’re able to grow and learn together. But if we rely solely on leaders, our kids don’t have the agency they deserve.

This week on the podcast, I’m talking with Rachel Kittle of Leadership Launch about how her organization is giving kids the real-world experience they need to build confidence and become leaders.

The result? She’s watched incredibly shy youth come out of their shells to talk to community and business leaders. Kids have collaborated with adults, challenged themselves, and become servant leaders as a result of participating in the programs Leadership Launch offers.

As we come out of all the COVID lockdowns and isolation, we need to inspire our youth to get out there, combat their social anxiety, and create safe spaces for them to grow and learn. Creating opportunities for kids to work with mentors opens so many doors, fills needs for the whole community, and allows kids a safe person to support them through trauma and growth.

Tune in now!

About Leadership Launch:

Leadership Launch is a nonprofit organization with a mission to empower, equip, and engage student leaders from a place of equity. They work with students in the 9th grade through the first year of college who want to impact the community, grow as leaders, and pursue their dreams.

Leadership Launch is dedicated to personal development, servant leadership, mentorship, and community engagement. They primarily work with first-generation college-bound students and students facing hardship.

Jump in the Conversation:

[1:54] How educational activism started for Rachel
[2:56] Looking at what impacts you and leveraging that to help others
[3:28] Training kids to look for needs and find ways to fill them
[5:33] The Leadership Launch program
[7:40] Messiness of creating events
[8:45] Success story/transformation story
[10:54] Teaching emotional intelligence through storytelling
[14:13] The growth of social anxiety
[14:50] Biggest roadblocks in creating a program like Leadership Launch
[16:27] Importance of love, community, relationships, and mentorship, even if it’s not measurable
[17:21] Authenticity, Belief, Consistency – the ABCs of excellent mentors
[18:07] Change starts at home
[19:08] What can you do to influence ONE child’s life?
[19:27] What’s next for Rachel and Leadership Launch
[20:32] Turbo Time
[25:30] Rachel’s Magic Wand: That each child has at least one stable, loving adult in their life outside their family
[26:48] Maureen’s Take-Aways

Links & Resources



Maureen O’Shaughnessy 0:03
Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at Education Evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education evolution, micro school coalition, and co founder of EdActive, I consult and train with schools and leaders who are fiercely committed to changing the narrative, reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 0:49
If you are new, welcome to the podcast, please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:08
Hello, Rachel, thank you for joining us today.

Rachel Kittle 1:11
Thank you for inviting me. Happy to be here.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:14
Yay. Education Evolution listeners, I love getting to talk to folks who have big projects that are making a positive impact on youth. But sometimes I think that lets the rest of us off the hook because we’re doing something small and local. And today we are going to prove you wrong.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:33
Our guest, Rachel Kittle is the founder of Leadership Launch in Everett, Washington, my own backyard. And this nonprofit is creating equity and launching high school students into the world as thoughtful leaders. Let’s hear how leadership launch makes this happen. Rachel, first question, we know our definition of learning has to evolve to serve all youth that the system is not working this institution is outdated. We’ve got that. But where did this story of educational activism begin for you?

Rachel Kittle 2:08
So my background, I am an attorney and I moved from Oregon to Washington State to Michael to and started looking around and asking questions of coaches and teachers and counselors just kind of saying, hey, is there a need for a program for youth that might be falling through the cracks in our current system? Who could use this support outside of school? And the traditional system that set up? And I heard a resounding yes.

Rachel Kittle 2:18
And so what I started to do was look at my background, being the first in my family with my sisters to go to college. And then I went to law school, right. And I had all these wonderful experiences. But I was looking back and saying, Okay, what were the things that really impacted me? How can I now do research to figure out how to help you with and kind of brought it all together into what is now known as leadership launch.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 3:06
So Rachel, you took your own experience being a first generation college, you looked at a need in the community, and you start to ask questions. I think we can all do this, I think we can all look for needs in the community, ask questions and try to fill in gaps, whether it’s environmental, educational, so that’s what leadership is all about getting out there and making a difference. Tell us what you created.

Rachel Kittle 3:32
So I love that you reframed it that way because that’s exactly what we are doing with our youth starting at in ninth grade. So at like 14 years old, is helping them say, How do I train my eyes to look around me on a daily basis, whether that’s in my home right outside of my door, at my school? How do I look for these needs, and then figure out what to do about that, that issue.

Rachel Kittle 3:55
And so something that we do is called Launch Projects. And we have mentors who are alumni of the adult leadership program in the county who help our students give back and engage and do those projects on a daily basis, right? Because our whole community improves if we all start to do that, and nobody’s too young, or too old or too experienced or not enough experienced to make a difference.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 4:19
Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. And everybody I’m talking to says, we need the community involved. We need internships, we need kids out in the community, we need mentors. The schooling cannot be six experts talking about science, English, math, social studies, in this chunk of time that’s not doing it and so for you to say hey, community come mentored. Hey, kids, what do you see out there and blend that together? is amazing.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 4:44
I want to tie that into your mission statement because it’s super impressive to empower, equip, and engage student leaders from a place of equity. We work with students in the ninth grade through first year of college who want to impact the community, grow as leaders and pursue Dreams. Wow. And then your focuses primarily work with first generation college bound students and students facing hardships. So you’ve honed in your audience.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 5:08
So, listeners, if you’re like, I have a passion, focusing on a mission, I put that in my book, you got to have that mission. Are you a German immersion school? Are you a community resource building leaders? What is your mission? And then who is your audience? So Rachel, can you describe your program? And I’m sure that will address how your mission is playing out?

Rachel Kittle 5:32
Sure. Yeah. So we meet during the school year, every week, we meet Sunday nights, we do dinner together and have our program and curriculum activities. And we do this, it’s about 150 hours a year for students to commit to this program. And it is part of personal development, leadership development, and community engagement is how we do the three prongs of our program. And so, so in addition to our weekly meetings, we also then do our launch our annual launch projects.

Rachel Kittle 6:08
And that takes a ton of time starting from orientation, all the way through the end of the year, where students work together as teams to one from the initial brainstorming sessions to voting as a team to then working on committees. They write letters to community partners, whether that’s the mayor and city council members, whether that’s nonprofit leaders or business leaders, they go and make presentations, pitch their project, ask for money, ask for support, ask for partnerships. And then we do these big community events.

Rachel Kittle 6:39
And those have ranged from an event called we our culture where students identified division in our community as being something that they wanted to do the discussion around our, in our meetings was, it feels like everywhere we look, it’s an us versus them mentality. And it’s not us versus them. It’s just us, we are culture. And so within that, because our group is so diverse, they were talking about how they’re even their own families and their own communities, like tend to stay within whether that’s, you know, similar language speaking, or food or culture, whatever, and they kind of isolate.

Rachel Kittle 7:15
So they said, We want to create a night where we can bring people together, we share food from around the world. And then people get up and move tables and engage in discussion around equity and community and discrimination, all around food. So that was one of our events in 2019.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 7:33
Yeah, that’s amazing. My microscope is project based, project based and student driven, is messy. When we are mentoring and facilitating and coaxing, it’s so much easier to be the the sage on the stage and up there lecturing and say, okay, guys do this and write this essay and make this many words so that you’re facilitating, you’re not only empowering kids to look in the community and be servant leaders, you’re also giving them collaboration skills, communication skills, courage to talk to adults, and to engage with adults, you’re giving them so many project design skills and, and project design design thinking that’s a whole college major these days.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 8:14
So you’re giving them real world relevant learning at a time when they’re saying my assignment at school is not connecting to the real world. You’re making those connections. And I just want to applaud you for that. That’s huge.

Rachel Kittle 8:29
Oh, thank you.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 8:32
I’m wondering, do you have a success story? Maybe a kid that came in as a Yeah, I don’t think this is for me. And perhaps a transformation story of how leadership launch may have supported that growth.

Rachel Kittle 8:45
Sure. So one of our students, Jenny came in, and she’s first generation college bound students super shy, like when she came in, she would speak up maybe once a meeting, and it would be very, very soft, and we would all lean in to try to hear her and to watch her grow. And now she is somebody who at every speaking opportunity, she’s like, all volunteer, I want to be there. I want to lead the discussion. Like we were just at Admin Center for the Arts, and they zoomed in this famous slam poet, Kay Aloha.

Rachel Kittle 9:22
So we’re on the admin center for the art stage. And she’s the first one to read her written like slam poet version one up there, and she’s at Seattle Pacific University now. And she just went to a fundraising event with us and shared how leadership launch has changed her life. And specifically, she went through a loss of a family member recently and so to be able to kind of process through with other students in the group with the like emotional intelligence lens and work that we’re doing was helpful for her and now her brother is in the program, and her cousin is in the program,

Rachel Kittle 9:59
but she is Now this competent woman who like went through orientation at SP you and she would be, she volunteered to be up front dancing in front of 200 people, but she said I would not be this person. If it were not for leadership launch.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 10:14
Oh my gosh, that just gives me shivers because all we can do is impact one student at a time. And the ripple that is now impacting siblings cousins, is huge. And also, agency. So often kids feel like I don’t have a voice. I don’t have a choice. Read this chapter. Take this test, giving her agency, a poetry slam. That Edmund stage is big. I’ve been in the performing arts center. Wow, to go from whispering in a small group to slamming on a big stage is transformation.

Rachel Kittle 10:48
Yeah. Well, and just like the work that we’re doing around emotional intelligence and terms of, you know, we went through and had students develop this children’s adventure story to process emotions, because sometimes we get so much in our head, that we overcomplicate emotions. And so we did training about Dr. Patrick’s will of emotion, but then we went into this activity where students could create just characters, you know, we said, okay, what are those characters look like? What’s the setting of this children’s adventure story? What happens? What challenges do they face? How do they resolve it?

Rachel Kittle 11:28
And in doing that, I think about Jenny, but there were other students, too, who shared their stories, like one student talked about, there was courageous Kathy, and small Cindy, who went into this forest and they were searching for magical berries. And one of them got scared and ran home, whether one of them went forward and found the berries and went back to the village and small Cindy, who was now big, said I, what I realized, because then we do reflection all about this is that I still feel small on the outside. And though I may be appearing like, I’m at community college, or I’m doing this, and I’m doing that I still am feeling very small inside.

Rachel Kittle 12:05
So there were story after a story that students right could tap into themselves through these these playful techniques. And yeah, start to really delve into into deeper issues that they’re facing on an emotional level.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 12:18
Wow. And I think, two different insights, I mean, outcomes of this come to mind. One is our kids don’t have safe places to process. And sometimes when it’s just with peers, they don’t have the tools. So you’re giving them tools, you’re giving them a place to have their voice. And I research on what businesses are looking for from high school graduates from people entering the job force, and they want emotional intelligence, they want people that can, you know, identify what’s going on and articulate and collaborate with others.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 12:50
And schools focus on content knowledge, but it’s really hard to work on emotional intelligence, and you have this five year process because it’s developmental, it’s process. It’s community. It’s not like, Oh, I’m gonna do a social emotional lesson today. Done, it’s not one and done. And you’re saying this is super important. And you’re breaking it down to simple and simple is hard. Who was it? I forget, if it was Mark Twain, somebody wrote, I would have written you a shorter letter, if I’d had more time.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 13:20
Getting concise is hard. I ramble all the time, because I haven’t gotten focused. So having them get simple, and, and children’s book is hard to get that clear. But then they have tools. So you’re doing a lot of important work. That’s that personal development part can’t be underestimated.

Rachel Kittle 13:39
Yes, 100%. And I think that that’s where the big gap is, right now. There’s so much pressure on our educational systems, which is why what you’re doing is so phenomenal, because you’re paving a way for broadening the scope of education and what our youth need, which I think is only going to be more relevant and more needed and more about highlighted in the future. But that there is this gap where then you have students coming out of COVID, who’ve now a lot of them have social anxiety.

Rachel Kittle 14:12
Now that social anxiety has only expanded. So they’re like, how do I get back into a group setting? How do I engage? How do I use my voice? How do I write how do I be my authentic self? And so I think that these types of opportunities and programs where there is a safe space where students know that they’re valued, and they can explore that is really, really beneficial.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 14:35
Absolutely. You know, Rachel, I don’t want to downplay how hard it is or how hard it’s been for me to start a micro school. What have been some of the biggest struggles or roadblocks in creating leadership launch?

Rachel Kittle 14:54
Well, when I think when you start with an idea, and it’s small and it’s maybe outside of the box, it, it’s a lot of under estimating that maybe occur, occurs. And so I think that one can happen with myself and can happen with others. But it’s also funding, right. And so our program model is 25 students, because we take five students per ninth grade through first year of college, which is 25 students designed to be that way. And so we’ve been working on our program model. And so sometimes with funding, right, you say, well, we work with 25 students, and you’re, you’re applying with people who work with 1000s of students.

Rachel Kittle 15:41
And so how do you measure that input impact and that challenge, I think, of reframing it, it doesn’t always have to be about breadth, if we could look at the depth that’s happening here, and the impact for the students and their families, and the ripple of impact from those individual students, you know, expands beyond the 25. And so I think the challenge of just kind of starting something new, figuring out all the logistics and the funding to make it happen with advocating the impact that goes a little bit against our societal norms.

Rachel Kittle 16:17
It’s like faster, broader, like, go, go, go. But it’s like, let’s roll back to what worked for a lot of us for a lot of years, which is community, and relationships, and it’s hard to have relationships with 1000 kids, at one time, where 25 and knowing their families and their siblings works.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 16:40
I love that. And that’s what I find in my micro school, we have basically one teacher for every five or six kids, we have multi year like you do. And as kids progress, they become the mentors for the younger. And there’s a lot of positive peer pressure, and community and relationships that’s not as easy to measure to document. And we are kind of an assembly line faster, more better.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 17:03
And what you’re talking about, is that age old, I was talking to somebody yesterday, and he’s advocating, you know, just going back to Martin Luther King’s good old fashion, love, you know, as long as it’s not the bells and whistles, it’s community. It’s love Hello,

Rachel Kittle 17:19
yeah. Right. And that’s when I would go speak to groups, I often would start about, hey, can you just take a moment and think about somebody that really impacted your life, right, and just kind of get grounded in that moment. And so many times it was, you know, a teacher, a coach, and neighbor that sat on the porch and said hello to me every morning and every afternoon. And it’s like, often, these things are simple, which is like for you, that’s like being there and showing that you care. Like we use the ABCs, which is authenticity, belief, so unconditional belief in them and consistency.

Rachel Kittle 17:57
But it’s like being there and being aware of what’s happening there in their lives is often the thing that they will remember 20 or 30 years down the road. And that is simple. And so how can more of us do that? And I often talk about like change starts at home, whether that’s with your own children, your neighborhood kids, like, have them start to look, bring people into your home, because that’s what really changed the trajectory of my life.

Rachel Kittle 18:21
I had a friend, Megan McCauley, and her parents would invite me over, they would bring me to things they had a like vacation home, and I kind of my worldview, right, because we did not have a lot of resources. It opened up and her dad was a judge. And I’m like, I’m a lawyer now. And I don’t know that I would have taken the path if her family, right, they could have been like, no, stay away from her or whatever. Like, they brought me in, they loved me. And my whole life changed because of that.

Rachel Kittle 18:53
And so that’s another simple thing. Where am I like, start at home, start with one kid. You could change they could open their eyes and change their whole life trajectory just by welcoming them in your home.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 19:06
I love that and listeners call to action. What can you do that influences one child’s life, none of us can get off the hook that is small enough and specific enough that all of us can engage in that.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 19:20
Rachel, what’s next leadership launch is going and making a difference. Do you have some aspirations for more or different?

Rachel Kittle 19:29
Yes, so we are working on putting together a toolkit because we’ve run this pilot program and we every year we’ve revised and synthesized what’s working and what’s not, and we’ve kind of come up with a effective, simple curriculum. And so now it’s putting that in the form of toolkits to get it into the hands of others. You know, it could be within a classroom but it could also be within, like, youth advisory councils for Cities, it could be businesses, it could be other nonprofit organizations who already have youth that want to do an advanced kind of deeper dive for those students who are showing a little more potential in interest.

Rachel Kittle 20:11
And so that’s what we want to do. Because right, we just know that our teens, especially right now are, are hurting and are alone and are looking for ways to give back to their community all the time. So we want to get this out there for others.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 20:27
Amazing, I love it, that you’re making a local impact. And you’re looking at how you can expand that. I’m going to pivot because it’s also talking about relationships and connections, it’s important to get to know people behind initiative.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 20:41
So I’d love to ask you some questions and just get to know Rachel Kittle better.

Rachel Kittle 20:46

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 20:46
So, Turbo time, these are some rapid fire questions. First one is what is the last book you read?

Rachel Kittle 20:55
last book I read is Heinz feet on high places, it is by Hannah, her daughter died. It’s old, and I have read it so many times. But I find so much wisdom out of this. And so we actually also just looked at this in leadership launch. It has a religious base, but also any journey, any dream and a goal has such valuable lessons. And so how do you trust the journey in the process? And when you hit different challenges, what do you do? So I yeah, I’ve read it many times, but most recent

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 21:26
Beautiful allegory, yes. And, and we can take it through any lens, I have gotten to a place where if I see the word God or Allah, I insert my understanding the universe, spirit, whatever works. And I think a lot of people aren’t letting a label and do their spiritual foundation. So love it.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 21:49
Two inspiration, inspirational people you’d love to meet

Rachel Kittle 21:53
former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, because one I love there as a couple, right? They’re independent. And yeah, as a couple work so well together, they were the first to do something become President and First Lady of the United States as black Americans and kept their family, you know, at the center of what they did. And so I just find that so inspirational that they achieved the highest level in our land, and yet, like their marriage, their partnership, their family, seem to say at the center of it all.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 22:32
Absolutely. How about a TED Talk that inspires you.

Rachel Kittle 22:37
So I, there’s a TEDx talk that I love by Stacey flowers, she talks about the five people, you need to be happy. And we use that at leadership launch for the five people that you need for accountability. But she talks about with your thumb, thumbs up for a cheerleader, your pointer finger to point you in the right direction as a mentor, your middle finger is a coach needs to push you and make you feel a little uncomfortable.

Rachel Kittle 23:03
Sometimes your ring finger is a friend. And your pinky finger is a colleague in a professional like setting similar to yours. And so it’s just so simple, but it’s you can apply it throughout pretty much every single day.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 23:18
I have to check that out not put all of these resources in the show notes so our listeners can check it out, too. How about what’s the biggest thing you wish folks knew about building these bridges for youth with this youth that perhaps have disadvantaged backgrounds?

Rachel Kittle 23:33
Sure, I briefly mentioned this before, but I would say the ABCs of mentorship. Authenticity, how can you be your authentic self because teens read through that and and need authenticity to trust you that belief that unconditional belief in them that it may go up and down and around, but that somebody is there believing in them at the end of the day, and then consistency because especially kids coming from hardship or overcoming trauma. It’s hard to get their trust, and it’s easy to lose their trust.

Rachel Kittle 24:08
So consistency, do what you say that you’re going to do and follow through because that’s one of the most valuable things they can give you is their trust.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 24:18
Absolutely. What’s a pet peeve of yours?

Rachel Kittle 24:22
underestimating people, right, whether that’s because they don’t have a certain background or experience or basis of understanding or under estimating small organizations because they are small, right? We like to think of us we’re small but mighty, we’re gritty. We’ll get in there. Get it done. But yeah, certainly one of my pet peeves.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 24:46
Love Yeah, we call ourselves at least scrappy and happy. Yeah, it works. What’s the passion you bring the leadership launch?

Rachel Kittle 24:58
resourcefulness I think I have confidence that I can figure something out, or I can find somebody to figure it out. And so that connection and that level of network to just say, Okay, I’m passionate about anything that the students want to have access to, or opportunities for, like, let’s figure it out. Let’s connect, let’s find a way to find somebody who knows what you want to learn more about.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 25:26
Love it. And I’d like to wrap up my interviews with a magic wand question. So Rachel, if I handed you a magic wand, what would you wish for that would empower our youth help them push through hardship make an impact? What would you wish for? I would wish

Rachel Kittle 25:44
that every student had that one stable, loving adult in their life outside of the family, which has shown to make the biggest impact in helping kids recover from trauma. So I wish that every kid in our communities had that one person who was there to support them through whatever life brought their way and and had just was their biggest supporter and cheerleader actually was, you know, tried to find or provide all five of those Dr. Stacy flowers. People because she recommended

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 26:20
Absolutely yes. And we can be that village. For kids, you are reminding us everybody can be that mentor can start a small program can access your toolkit when it comes out, and use that. So thank you for your hard work and for being our guest today.

Rachel Kittle 26:39
Thank you for inviting me. It was a pleasure.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 26:51
I am all about community relationships and love as the foundation of our education evolution. And so is Rachel with leadership launch. I can’t wait to go in and look at the five people you need to be happy and hear that TED Talk and how that tool can help us create a team of support for each student. So for me, that is one great takeaway. Rachel also talked to me more about trauma informed care, citing the quality longitudinal study and aces information. And both are in the show notes.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 27:28
Heather Batchelor in episode 44 created a teacher education program that focuses on trauma informed strategies. We all need to know more about this important lens on brain development, and student performance. So please feel free to check out episode 44.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 27:49
Rachel takes that trauma informed information and builds in training for mentors so that they have an understanding of what is going on or has gone on in a child’s life, and how that can impact daily functioning. She mentioned to me that her team is very careful when they check in with kids to see about what might have gone wrong versus the kid being wrong, and then listening with understanding. And I have to own from my privileged perspective. I can’t always imagine some of the hurdles students go over just to make a day at school work for them. So I need to ask questions and listen with empathy. And be careful not to make assumptions.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 28:38
Rachel’s magic wand that every child has a loving and stable adult. sounds so simple and obvious. But many kids are not getting that in their personal lives. We can be those mentors that fill the need. And like the trauma informed research says that one trusted adult can become a tool for recovery from trauma. And we may not even know that we opened worlds for a child or were a stable foundation for a child in need. But do it small and mighty leadership launch is showing us that everybody can look at something the world needs, and be the ones who meet this need.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 29:23
Let’s get out there and be a part of this change. Thank you for being a part of the education evolution.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 29:39
I know how challenging it is to make changes inside your own school or community. I’ve spent years traveling working with schools around the world on creating learner centered programs and it always struck me on how much schools were able to get them with the right tools and guidance. If you’re ready to make changes like this in your school or to start a new school. Let’s talk and put together an action plan. Visit for a free 15 minute call. And let’s see if we’re a good fit for more work together

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 30:23
Education Evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen, heard, valued and thriving. We need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. Leaving a rating and review for this podcast lets others know that you find it a value add it gets in the earbuds of more educational leaders like you.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 30:51
Thank you listeners, signing off. This is Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education

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