Resilience=Connectedness=College Ready

Posted on May 1, 2016
by FeliciaOctocog

With the support of all of you this year we have been able to serve over 200 middle and high school youth in after-school programs filled with STEM and Art enrichment that we offer at LEAP and in the Salem and Gloucester public schools and 150 students in our College Success programs. This June, we will have 31 high school youth from Salem, Peabody and Gloucester graduating. And, thanks to everyone here, we continue to have 100% high school graduation and 100% college enrollment. And 85% of our students are still in college or have graduated.

These stats are impressive. And yes, with your support, we have built a great staff and high quality programs BUT it is the hard effort and resilience of our students that make the difference.

Resilience –What is it?

Many years back I was chatting with Dr. Cameron about resilience. I was new in the education world and was intrigued with the question of why some youth are so successful in overcoming so many barriers in their lives while others are not. Dr. Cameron said that all children need an adult in their lives who they don’t want to disappoint. Someone they can feel connected to, someone who sets high expectations and provides positive recognition. All of our educators recognized tonight are examples of this. But, he cautioned, we also need to teach our students the skills to be resilient and give them the opportunity to practice them.

We have all encountered bumps in the road in our personal, academic or professional lives. As an ED of a small non-profit, bumps are a given.

Let’s see there was one week in February where we had a flood (pipes burst), an infestation of mice, a server crash and a homeless population that decided to share our space. Sometimes I find myself going from one daily “crisis” to the next. I allow myself some time to be grouchy and frustrated but then I get down to business. Who can I call for advice, what are the fixes, workarounds, set a timetable, a project plan and get it done.

So what skills did I exhibit?

First of all my executive functioning skills kick in –
These are : Emotional control, flexibility, ability to plan and prioritize and take action quickly and stay focused until the problem is solved.

Second, my social networks – family, staff, colleagues and partners ready to help.

Finally, a self-awareness and self-efficacy – the confidence that I do have control over my environment. Knowing without a doubt that I am not helpless – ever.

These actions and reactions define resilience.

You often hear that children are resilient. I believe that this is too often declared in a cavalier manner to downplay the impact of “bad things” that happen to our children. Yes, children can be resilient, just like adults, but it is not a genetic trait. Resilience is learned.

We have youth that have experienced poverty, family trauma, war, abuse, or have to adapt to a new culture and language, or deal with a disability. Most of our students come from families where they are loved. That is not the issue here. The love and support of a parent clearly helps but there are way too many youth who have that love but still lack resilience.

Resilience is learned through positive interactions with peers or adults, in the successful accomplishments of a task, whether it is academic, musical, artistic, or athletic and it is the opportunity to practice and learn important executive functioning skills.

At LEAP we have looked more closely at why our youth are dropping out of college. On the surface the reasons were pregnancy, academic failure, financial. But when you dig underneath this, it was often lack of aspiration or long term goals, inability to ask for help, inability to plan and prioritize, lack of initiative or self-efficacy. It is our role as caring adults to give our youth the opportunity to be successful, to overcome failure, to empower them to be independent young adults with problem-solving skills and a sense of self-efficacy.

An example of one program we have added to help students build resilience is called Brotherhood for Success, a program with SSU that works with low-income males of color to help them unpack the baggage that makes them think they are not college material as well as to understand all the issues, challenges and opportunities that are specific to young men of color and to learn how to address them, including asking for help.

LEAP’s work in providing such programs like this recently earned us recognition as a best practice in the 2016 Rennie Report on the Condition of Education.

You all play an important role in building youth resilience. Your gifts are invaluable in providing us the funds to offer a program like Brothers for Success and so many others like it. Equally important is the time you spend to get to know our youth here, now, at work, and in the community. Please continue to surround our kids with caring adults, teach them, praise them, give them opportunities to shine and always recognize their uniqueness.