Starting and Maintaining a CLTL Juvenile Program: An Interview with Michael Habib

[The following post is about the Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) program. It originally appeared in different form on the CLTL Blog, Changing Lives, Changing Minds, and is reposted here with the permission of the author and the publisher. You can learn more about Bristol County, Massachusetts’ experience with the program here. -Ed.]
positive-youth-development_teens-readingRecently, I had the chance to interview Michael Habib, who facilitates the Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) program for teens in Fall River, MA. Because I volunteer with young offenders in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, I wanted his advice on a few questions:

  • What tips do you have for other juvenile reading programs?
  • How do you get kids to open up?
  • What do you do when they don’t do their assigned work?

When Mike first began to facilitate the court’s first CLTL program, he says he had to do a lot of research on what kids read. “I used the CLTL home page as a resource, consulted with librarians, audited a session at the New Bedford program, and found a great website called The Literary Link, which I highly recommend.”
In Mike’s experience, a CLTL program for kids needs to run differently than a program for adults. “The stories have to pick the kids,” says Mike. “These kids don’t trust you and they don’t know who you are. Part of the facilitator’s task is listening to them and building relationships. Kids don’t respond well to classic literature. Contemporary works will be more engaging for them.”
When I asked Mike about forming relationships with students, he explained he shows up early for class and talks to the kids before it starts. He also speaks with them during breaks and tries to use those conversations to promote discussion in class.
“I would describe my role as . . . I don’t want to use the word ‘friend,’ but I try to make the group a family,” he explains. “If they can trust me, then they’ll open up to me, and that’s when the sessions really start making a difference.”
Another topic I wanted Mike’s opinion on was student apathy. In my experience, young offenders often display a “So what?” attitude about the world around them. How then, I asked, does he deal with disinterest or incomplete assignments?
“The first thing I ask kids is if they did the assignment. If a student hasn’t, I ask the rest of the kids not to talk to that student and I let them do the reading while the rest of us discuss.
“When they don’t do their work, I ask about it during the break. Being a lawyer, I don’t always accept their first reason. I ask a series of questions about what’s doing on. Usually, ‘I’m busy,’ turns into ‘I’m having problems at home.’ I simply ask the students to do their readings because it’s not fair to the rest of the kids. I recommend they leave the book beside their bed and read a few pages a night, or take it with them on the bus. I tell every student that this isn’t like school: they all have an A, they just have to keep it. My goal is to have these kids not get in trouble again and understand themselves better, make better choices, and not get caught up in the mob mentality by following whatever their friends are doing all the time. I always stress that they’re independent people and they don’t have to be followers.”


Allan McDougall is a graduate student from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Allan is currently writing his MA thesis on Changing Lives Through Literature, and writes about professional and academic issues on his blog


See this related post for information about the benefits of implementing positive youth development programs in the juvenile justice system.
Like the sound of PYD, but unsure how to approach it? Check out this post for creative PYD ideas.
Photo by circulating.

Updated: February 08 2018