During the 2015–2016 school year, I developed a cognitive–behavioral group titled Empowering Our Young Men (EOYM). The group is facilitated by me (the school social worker) and an educational specialist who noticed the need for a program that would help students who demonstrated great potential to avoid falling through the cracks of the educational system. The goals of the EOYM program are to improve academic performance, enhance self-esteem, give exposure to colleges and careers, and decrease office discipline referrals. In October 2015, EOYM was implemented within Choptank Elementary School (CES) located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The school’s county is a rural area that relies heavily on two areas of the private sector for employment: (1) manufacturing and (2) trade, transportation, and utilities. The median household income for the county is far below the average for the state at $45,095, with 13.1 percent of the population living in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). For the 2015–2016 school year, CES had a total of 397 students, of whom 70 percent are African American; of these, 56 percent are boys and 91.4 percent receive free or reduced-price meals. In 2013, CES became a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) school. PBIS is a process for creating school environments that are more predictable and effective for achieving academic and social goals. For some schools, PBIS will enhance their current systems and practices, for others it radically changes the culture for the better. The targeted students (a closed group of fourth and fifth grade African American students identified by teachers and me) were selected because they had at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE). As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016), ACEs are potentially traumatic events that can have a negative impact, with lasting effects on health and well-being. These experiences range from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse to parental divorce or the incarceration of a parent or guardian. The selected students were also chosen because, despite some troubles in school and at home, they demonstrated the potential to excel socially, emotionally, and academically with the needed support and guidance. Young men at our school need a safe and confidential environment, where they can be open to their peers and adults; EOYM offers such an opportunity. Once students were selected, their parents were notified with a letter, giving details of the EOYM program, and were asked for signed permission for the student to participate in the group. To monitor the progress of the members throughout the academic year, two assessments were administered. One was a self-assessment titled “Student Needs Assessment Questionnaire” and was provided to each of the boys to be completed independently. The worksheet is succinct with eight questions geared toward identifying how well each young man feels he expresses his emotional needs, resolves conflict, perseveres, and identifies the impact of ACEs. The second is a worksheet completed by each young man with the aid of an EOYM facilitator. This form asks the student to define a goal to create an understanding that they can build on for developing current goals. Personal role models, career goals, and participation in extracurricular activities are identified. The same assessment involves a component to be completed by their individual teacher to provide perspective of the child’s attitude, in-school behavior, willingness to learn, and parental and community support. Included in the information gathered is an awareness of the number of minor and major discipline referrals acquired before participation in EOYM. Academic achievement, as expressed by letter grades, is also gathered as a goal-setting strategy to invoke improvement. In the group 83 percent of the students had never visited a college before participating in EOYM. The first group session allowed the students to establish group norms and participate in a team-building activity. Each session of EOYM began with a quote and reflection. The quote always corresponded with the focus of the session. The students wrote the quote in their journal, then shared their reflection with the group. Some of the sessions consisted of the students watching an ESPN E:60 videos. ESPN E:60 (Wikipedia, 2016) videos are documentary videos of athletes telling their stories of hardships, obstacles, and success. After students watched the E:60 videos, they were given 10 to 15 minutes to answer discussion questions as a group. Discussion and reflection are important to the EOYM group as they allow the students to learn about what characteristics a young man possesses and how he himself can embody those characteristics. The students had a group session in which the guest speaker was an assistant principal from the local high school who focused on the topic, “What does your name mean?” Positive affirmations were developed with the students to help them find value within themselves. Students were introduced to goals and the importance of setting goals for themselves. The students also benefited from other guest speakers throughout the year. Some of the guest speakers were from the community: a local artist, local radio manager, high school students, a community activist, and minister from a church in the community. Other group topics included social and emotional skills, lifelong learning, work ethic, discovering your vision, positive self-identity, and personal vision. During the session in which a local glass artist visited to conduct a mini workshop on the art of glass making, the group members had the opportunity to create their own expression of art with their own glass art project. A local radio station manager visited the students and had the EOYM students practice and develop their language arts and reading skills by drafting writings for their trip to the radio station later that month. The students wrote information about themselves, their interests, and their career goals, which gave them an opportunity for self-reflection and introspection. These speakers provided the boys with opportunities to explore careers in various fields. Through various in-kind contributions we were able to take the students on field trips throughout the year to help expose them to different colleges, careers, and other life opportunities. The boys visited two college campuses during the school year and learned about the college experiences and what they can attain through a college education. They were able to tour the campus and get a brief feel for campus life. The trips were to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Chesapeake College. These visits encourage the boys to pursue higher education so that they may tap into the potential that had previously been identified by school staff. EOYM participants also had the opportunity to visit a local radio station; they were given a tour and learned about the radio show production process. These real-life connections to the guest speakers help to get the message across to the students about their potential and opportunities. We examined the grades of each EOYM student from term 4 of the 2014–2015 school year to the current 2015–2016 school year and found that 80 percent of the students improved one or more grade and 60 percent improved two or more grades. When the students began the group, they completed an assessment; it showed that 20 percent of the students visited a college campus prior to the EOYM experience. During their experience with EOYM, all the students attended at least one college field trip. At the end of the group in May, the post questionnaire was given to each group member in which a growth in the ability to share feelings, solve conflicts, and handle difficult life changes was exhibited. Over 50 percent of the students showed growth in all areas of the post questionnaire. An end-of-year dinner was held May 2016 for the fifth grade EOYM members and their families. After the dinner parents and guests completed a survey to give their feedback about the EOYM program; all participants felt that the EOYM program enhanced their member's lives in some way. This cognitive–behavioral group proved effective in the lives of the members. EOYM will continue into the 2016–2017 school year, enriching the lives of students in need of additional supports to tap into their full potential. EOYM will maintain their core values of improving academic achievement, social–emotional skills, reduction of discipline referrals, and exposure to college and career opportunities. References Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ( 2016, June 14). Violence prevention: About the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/about.html E:60. ( 2016, October 10). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E:60 U.S. Census Bureau. ( 2016). QuickFacts: Dorchester County, Maryland. Retrieved from www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/24019 © 2017 National Association of Social Workers
Children & Schools – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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