Paul Tough authored the book Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why, which is a short and excellent collection of ideas, with the premise that while "no program or school is perfect, each successful intervention contains some clues about how and why it works that can inform the rest of the field."
The movie Paper Tigers is an excellent way to see these principles in action.
The following collection of resources informs how we strive to be with our youth in the city. Part of what we do is learn about and empathize with the challenges they face. The other part of what we do is learn about and attempt successful strategies being reported by other educators and mentors.
Dr. Nadine Harris, an Oakland pediatrician, has a compelling TED talk describing the science behind the effects of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress on children:
“Imagine you're walking in the forest and you see a bear. Immediately, your hypothalamus sends a signal to your pituitary, which sends a signal to your adrenal gland that says, ‘Release stress hormones! Adrenaline! Cortisol!’ And so your heart starts to pound, Your pupils dilate, your airways open up, and you are ready to either fight that bear or run from the bear. And that is wonderful if you're in a forest and there's a bear. But the problem is what happens when the bear comes home every night, and this system is activated over and over and over again, and it goes from being adaptive, or life-saving, to maladaptive, or health-damaging. Children are especially sensitive to this repeated stress activation, because their brains and bodies are just developing. High doses of adversity not only affect brain structure and function, they affect the developing immune system, developing hormonal systems, and even the way our DNA is read and transcribed.”
Paul Tough adds to the discussion:
"On an emotional level, chronic early stress — what many researchers now call toxic stress — can make it difficult for children to moderate their responses to disappointments and provocations. Small setbacks feel like crushing defeats; tiny slights turn into serious confrontations. In school, a highly sensitive stress-response system constantly on the lookout for threats can produce patterns of behavior that are self-defeating: fighting, talking back, acting up in class, and also, more subtly, going through each day perpetually wary of connection with peers and resistant to outreach from teachers and other adults."
Adverse childhood experiences happen too often in suburbia, and even affect some of our children at Glen Mar. The first studies on adverse childhood experiences actually were conducted in the affluent suburbs. But the problem is pervasive for our children in Baltimore City.
Crystal Hardy-Flowers is a thirty year veteran social worker and director of the Little Flowers Early Childhood Development Center, which serves about 200 children and their families in Sandtown. Little Flowers provides classroom spaces each Tuesday evening for our College and Career Prep program. In 2014, the Baltimore Sun ran a Pulitzer-winning article on what Crystal has learned working with our children in the Baltimore City:
"Crystal understood something that her teachers did not. The kids were growing up … where backyard police chases are common and sirens wake up kids like unwelcome alarm clocks at night. Almost every day, in some way, the kids were exposed to violence. … Even as shootings, stabbings and murder trials grab the spotlight, violence in Baltimore is exacting another insidious, often invisible, toll — warping the health and development of the city's youngest residents. For every child who is shot, provoking public outrage, there are hundreds of others who hear gunshots or see fights and stabbings in neighborhoods across the city. After the ambulances drive off and the crime scenes are cleared, many of these children are left with deep psychological wounds." (Follow this link to hear Crystal discuss the importance of understanding what is going on in the lives of our inner city youth.)
Keep in mind that we are talking about our children, living just fifteen minutes east of Glen Mar.
So what do we do?
The remarkable thing is how just a few interventions can make the future much brighter for our youth. Paper Tigers contends that just one caring adult can help break the cycle of adversity in a young person’s life.
Relationship building is at the center of what we do, our youth must trust us before we can get out of the starting gate. To help with attention, we provide food at our meetings, and we work on positive reinforcement for good behavior. When these things are in place, we can work on academics, life skills, and networking to prepare our youth for college and career. All the while we strive to be a positive constant to whom they can turn.
We Emphasize Belonging
Rita Pierson provides some clues in her TED talk:
“And we know why kids drop out, we know why kids don’t learn. It’s either poverty, low attendance, negative peer influences. We know why. But one of the things that we never discuss or we rarely discuss is the value and importance of human connection. Relationships. No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship … Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best they can possibly be”.
Every child needs a champion.
Paul Tough reports that educators with the most success in bringing out in their students non-cognitive abilities such as grit (resilience), curiosity, self-control, optimism, conscientiousness, and perseverance never say a word about them in the classroom. "No child ever learned curiosity by filling out curiosity worksheets." A common thread in the strategies used by the successful teachers is the idea of creating a sense of belonging among their students. Belonging has the effect of overriding the the “fight or flight” instinct common among youth with high numbers of adverse childhood experiences, particularly when a failure occurs. If students believe they belong, they are more likely to persevere through challenges and failures they encounter. If not, they are more likely to give up at the first sign of trouble.
"Moments of failure are the time when students are most susceptible to messages, both positive and negative, about their potential. If they hear the message that failure is a final verdict on their ability, they may well give up and pull back from school. But if instead they get the message that a failure is a temporary stumble, or even a valuable opportunity to learn and improve, then that setback is more likely to propel them to invest more of themselves in their education."
We are wired to have unconditional love and belonging in our relationship with God. Many youth are waiting to experience this.
We Teach What's Been Missing
Crystal instituted a training program at Little Flowers to teach her teachers (and Glen Mar, Emmanuel UMC, College and Career Prep, and other volunteers) how to develop the social and emotional foundations that the children are often missing as they grow up. The University of Maryland Innovations Institute has developed a training curriculum especially relevant for working with children in the city. It is called the Maryland Social Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (SEFEL). We encourage our volunteers to visit the online training or attend the training sessions provided on occasion by Little Flowers Early Childhood Development Center.
We Help Our Youth Self-Direct: "What's Your Why?"
Eric Thomas has a some excellent videos here and here on the importance of knowing your why as a requisite for success. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. After various arguments with his parents and aunts, he dropped out of high school and lived homeless on the streets of Detroit for two years. While he was homeless, he met a preacher who inspired him to go back to school and eventually change lives. Lebron James has credited Thomas as part of his inspiration for winning the 2012 NBA Championship. He went on to finish a Ph.D. at Michigan State University, emphasizing that getting young people to “self-direct” their lives is a critical contributor to success, especially for inner city youth. Simon Sinek agrees: How great leaders inspire action.
Other Programs with Related Goals for Education and Careers
Programs outside of Baltimore
The successful College Prep Program at APL supports and encourages under-served students in the Howard County, Maryland area who have the desire and academic potential to excel in college, but who lack the mentoring and resources necessary to succeed. Students who are underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields, such as women, African-American, Hispanic, and Native American students, often face significant barriers in entering these careers. Low-income students and those who are the first in their families to go to college also encounter challenges in terms of access to resources, role models, and information necessary to succeed. It is an inspiration for our program.
STAIR, Start The Adventure In Reading, is a literacy-tutoring program for at risk children in the second grade in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.
Programs in Baltimore City
Little Flowers Early Childhood and Development Center's mission is to provide low-income children and families in the community with quality childcare services through comprehensive early learning and intervention programs, including before-school, after-school and weekend enrichment programs. The focus is on providing a safe and nurturing environment. The staff and program development, as well as parent and community involvement, are key elements to the success of the program. The program provides children ages 6 weeks to 5 with quality early education, setting the foundation they need to compete and thrive. The before and after-school enrichment program provides services for school-age children ages 3 to 15. After-school enrichment operates early morning hours and extended evening hours and focuses on reducing latchkeyism, childhood abuse, neglect and juvenile crime through education and teaching teamwork and leadership skills.
Our urban ministry partner, Emmanuel UMC, visits Little Flowers twice a month, on a Tuesday and on a Thursday, from 9:30 to 11am. Departure from Emmanuel is at 9am, and return is round noon. Emmanuel folks (3-4) carpool up to Baltimore, a 35 minute drive, and park in a secured lot.
Little Flowers has a new program to provide tutoring for children in the community ages 5-18 on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month from 11am – 2pm and is looking for tutoring volunteers.
Volunteers of all ages are needed and welcomed for any of these programs.
Kids’ Safe Zone provides a safe, comfortable and secure place for children in the Sandtown-Winchester community, helping fill the gap in resources that the closing of Baltimore City recreation centers created.
Thread engages underperforming high school students in the neighborhoods near The Johns Hopkins Hospital, confronting significant barriers outside of the classroom by providing each one with a family of committed volunteers and increased access to community resources.
Paul’s Place provides programs, services, and support that strengthen individuals and families, fostering hope, personal dignity and growth in southwest Baltimore neighborhoods.
Youthworks is an initiative of the Baltimore City Mayor's Office of Employment Development that connects thousands of young people between the ages of 14 and 21 to summer jobs with private, nonprofit, and city and state government employers throughout Baltimore.
Year Up offers a one-year, intensive training program that provides young adults with a combination of hands-on skills development, coursework eligible for college credit, and internships at top companies. Baltimore City Community College is now participating.
Learn ways to help here.
Contact us for more resources on working with our youth in Baltimore City:
John Stapleton, 240.463.8620, firstname.lastname@example.org.