Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Taming the Test Monster

This week is Spring Break and our students have some well-deserved time off. Last week was full of test prep. Unfortunately, after this nice week off, they’ll be returning to the real thing—State testing.

Test time is a very anxious period for our students. In fact, we often see attendance decrease significantly during test preparation weeks or text exams because students are afraid. It’s probably difficult to think back to when you last had a test—most of you probably blocked it out! I was a pretty good student in school. I never had problems participating in class or answering questions, but when you put a test in front of me, something changed. My entire mind would go blank and I all of a sudden could barely remember my name! Well, maybe it wasn’t that extreme, but you get the point.

To help reduce testing anxiety, Partnership with Children has developed a curriculum “Taming the Test Monster”. We give students strategies on how to prepare for test taking such as getting enough rest, having a hearty breakfast and making sure they get up a bit early so they don’t feel rushed and stressed. We treat test anxiety as a real monster and understand it might affect each student differently. Our students are given a picture of their monster and asked to draw or write about how the test monster makes them feel and what causes them the most anxiety. We discuss everyone’s feelings—it’s very helpful for students to verbalize their fears and know that some of their classmates have the same fears. After the discussion we put all of the Test Monsters into a box, seal it tight and throw it away. By physically separating themselves from their Test Monster, students are able to “free” themselves from their fears and anxiety!

Our schedules get a bit hectic during test preparation. Our normal counseling, whether it is small groups, one-on-one or classroom programs, goes on hold for the week as we introduce the Test Monster curriculum. We also work with students and classrooms that are not normally served by Partnership with Children because the principal or a teacher will come to me and express concern about their students’ test anxiety. This year we provide full classroom programming for three classrooms. During test preparation, we add six more classes to that list solely to execute our Test Monster curriculum.

While it might seem unfair to have to return to school after break and go right into test week, at least we know our students will be prepared. They tamed the Test Monster last week, will hopefully get to relax during break this week and will come back to school Monday less stressed, more confident and ready to succeed.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Learning about Real Life Responsibilities

Our small groups are designed not only to unite students with similar issues and tackle the emotional and behavioral challenges the face, but we also encourage leadership skills and other traits to help our students succeed in life beyond the school walls. Our Bookstore group presents students with a real job opportunity. Students experience different roles at the store, they design marketing materials, set prices and above all learn about real life consequences.

Unlike our other groups, the Bookstore group technically meets two times a week—one for the regular group session and a second time during the student’s lunch/free period to open the store. We don’t gather the students together before the store opens or hunt them down if they’re not there. It’s understood that just like a real job, it is the students’ responsibility to show up and work at the bookstore if they want to participate in the project. And just like a real job, not showing up on time or at all, has consequences. I asked my students, “What happens if you don’t show up for work and don’t call?” “You get fired!” was the unanimous answer.

Of course, we can’t actually fire our students, but we can simulate the experience. If students don’t show up to work at the Bookstore, they’re given a warning. If they miss “work” a second time without a reason, the students are no longer allowed to sell in the bookstore. They will still be a part of the regular weekly Partnership with Children group, but they will miss out on the fun part of selling and operating a real business. On the flip side, students who are always on time and do a good job are rewarded with notebooks or other items from the store. The students in the Bookstore group really enjoy running their own business, but also are excited to have real responsibilities and be trusted. It’s funny, after nearly four years in this school, I’ve never had to “fire” a Bookstore employee. If a student does get a warning, he so worried about losing his new responsibilities that he’s on his best behavior the rest of the year!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Upcoming Event: Parent Workshop

Next Wednesday we’re holding a Parent Workshop at the school.  We try to host these workshops several times throughout the school year to engage not only our Partnership with Children parents, but the entire school parent community as well. Earlier this week every student in the school went home with a flyer in their bag notifying parents of the workshop.

We’ve decided to focus on health and wellness for our Parent Workshop.  The breakfast event will give parents the tools they need to keep themselves and families healthy.  Topics will include information about local food pantries, free or low cost fitness options and local health clinics.  We will also be partnering with Project Renewal later this spring which will offer parents free mammograms, pap smears colonoscopies, blood pressure, and other health related services and make sure parents are well aware of the date and details.

The Parent Workshops are a great way to further incorporate Partnership with Children into the school.  Sometimes a parent (or staff member) might feel hesitant about letting an “outsider” in.  By creating events and activities for not only our students but the entire school, we become an integrated part of the school and the community.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Coping with Losses

Our new bereavement group started last week. I know I’m not supposed to say this but it is one of my favorite groups! In the first session, I was shocked to see how open the students were in speaking about people they had lost.  Like one of our fifth graders, Samantha.  Her 17 year old sister was recently shot and killed.  Samantha was very close to her sister and her death is extremely hard for her to understand. While she didn’t know all the details about the shooting, I was still surprised how open she was about the event and her feelings at our first group meeting. I admire her bravery so much! Being an adult, I still find it hard to cope with death, but to grieve at such a young age (and for someone so young and close to her)—I find it hard to imagine.

Not only do I enjoy this group of students, but I also feel our Bereavement Groups is one of our most effective. Partnership with Children has a great curriculum that teaches students the five stages of grieving—denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance—and how to cope with each. By verbalizing and explaining each stage to the students, they are better able to understand what they’re feeling.

One challenge I’ve come across in recruiting students to our Bereavement Group is that parents are reluctant to sign our consent form.  Living in a very poor and dangerous area, many of the deaths our students have to cope with are not due to natural causes. Parents are often fearful that if they’re child participates in the group and starts to open up, details of the deaths could come out that may put the student or family in danger. On the other hand, grieving over a loss is a very important part of life. It becomes a delicate balance of what the child is feeling and how to help them versus the dangers of the outside world.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Transitioning Away from Partnership with Children

I’ve talked about Ryan a lot this year—his ups and downs and breakthrough moments. He’s worked with us for a number of years and between the end of last year and this year he’s made great progress and has become a student others can look up to.  In the fall he was in our bookstore group, but since that is a half year program, we decided it was time for Ryan and Partnership to go their separate ways.

Sometimes a hard break isn’t very easy for our students.  When they’ve worked with Partnership for so long, it becomes an integrated part of their lives and it’s hard to move away from. A few weeks after Ryan left Partnership, he started popping his head in to say hi, or would hang around the Partnership room during free periods. 

Finally Ryan confided in me how much he missed the group.  He has lunch during the period the bookstore is open, so I talking with him about helping out with the store.  He was so excited! Not only does Ryan again feel connected to Partnership, but he’s able to take on a leadership role (something he never could have done in past years) and help other students understand how to run the store. I’m so proud of how much Ryan has grown over the past years with Partnership’s help. And it’s wonderful to have an “alumni” present at the store to aid other students and act as a role model.