Friday, November 11, 2011

Getting Ready to Open the Doors!

Our Bookstore Group is well on its way. Each of the ten group members will have certain responsibilities as described in their job descriptions. They’re very eager for the process to start and become “employed”. Being able to run a school bookstore really gives these students a sense of empowerment and it shows. The excitement was almost overwhelming as I read each of their job descriptions. They are very engaged and express a number of questions and concerns with respect to what the jobs entail.   Some of the job titles include General Manager, Sales Clerk—even  Advertising Representative and Security Guard.  Students then take turns rotating through the positions so they become experienced in a number of positions.
Right now we’re working on promotional strategies. They are beginning to learn how a business works and how to make it succeed. For example, when I asked Ryan “What if we sell the supplies for what I paid for them?” he responded “Oh no, we can’t do that. We will go out of business”.  
I asked each student to write down five strategies that would increase promotion of the bookstore. If all five strategies were correct, they’d be rewarded with a small gift. It always amazes me how incentives can motivate people. While some answers were far from correct, the incentives helped them try a little bit harder than they might normally. In the end, four students got all five strategies correct. Sometimes the right answer isn’t always the goal but that they put in the effort. The group process is very effective because students learn from one another and gain new strengths. Hopefully those who did not get all the answers will remember their classmates’ answers and be able to accurately come up with the strategies next time.
It’s been a good week all around. My group is excited and can’t wait for the bookstore to open its doors. Also I’ve noticed significant improvement in Ryan’s behaviors. I feel our talks the other week and through role model activities, he becomes more aware of his behavior and its possible consequences. He’s been more engaged in group and better behaved. I think he recognizes being the good guy is more beneficial. I am so proud of Ryan—he has grown from an angry, withdrawn, shut down little boy to a calmer, more open person. As a social worker this change in him is what makes me believe in Partnership with Children and my work.

Monday, November 7, 2011

No Chance to Say Goodbye

My heart sank when I saw the blinding “DC” next to Mary’s name when I reviewed my attendance data grid this morning.  She had been discharged, which means she and her family moved and she will be attending another school.  Unfortunately this is not uncommon at all.  Working with at risk students, many live in extreme poverty and are forced to move a lot or travel between shelters.  Generally the longer we work with students, the more likely they are to remain in the school.  The families we work with obtain a level of stability, while new students that come into our program might be forced to move after just a few weeks due to housing issues or other factors. 

What is difficult is the nature of how the students depart.  There is no forwarding information as to where they’re moving, what school they’ll be attending or whether they’ll get the support they need. Most importantly there’s no closure. With Mary, I felt like we could make a difference in her life.  While she lacked basic social skills, she was smart and had so much potential.  I believe a lot of her issues stemmed from her home situation.  By providing her with tools to combat these challenges we could have helped her build confidence, self-esteem and focus on her education. 

When a student leaves the group dynamics get disturbed as well.  It’s almost better that Mary was discharged early in the year.  We just started group a few weeks ago and the students are still getting to know each other.  Had this been 3 months down the road, it would be much harder.  Our small group members, especially in the Girls Group, get very close.  They understand what each other is going through and support each other in amazing ways.  We try to maintain consistency in our groups, something that these students may not be able to depend on outside school.  When a student is absent or moves, the entire group feels it.

When a student is discharged I feel a very complex set of emotions. I mourn the student’s absence but at the same time, this is the nature of my work.  I can’t dwell on a student who has left when there are so many other students that need help.  On one hand, Mary’s discharge opens up a new slot for another student to be helped, but on the other hand I worry that Mary is okay where she is.  I want to believe she’s getting the support she needs elsewhere, but I’m just not sure.