With an Evidence-based Curriculum, Improving Outcomes for Minority Male Youth

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With an Evidence-based Curriculum, Improving Outcomes for Minority Male Youth

With an Evidence-based Curriculum, Improving Outcomes for Minority Male Youth

This podcast is part of a series highlighting innovative approaches to reducing violence and improving health outcomes among at-risk minority youth at the nine demonstration sites of the Minority Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. One of these demonstrations sites is Cabarrus Students Taking a Right Stand (STARS), a school-based male youth leadership program based in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, that seeks to create a healthy, positive school community through mentorship and positive role modeling.

Katie Dight and Rolanda Patrick, program managers at Cabarrus STARS, and Sue Yates, chief financial officer for the Cabarrus Health Alliance, joined this week's podcast to discuss Cabarrus STARS' evidence-based curriculum and program results, and why STARS believes strong male role models are critical for program participants.

 

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RAPHAEL POPE-SUSSMAN: Hi. This is Raphael Pope-Sussman of the Center for Court Innovation. This podcast is part of series we are doing with people seeking to curb violence and improve access to public health for at-risk minority youth as part of the Minority Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. The Initiative is a partnership of the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the U.S. Department of Justice that encourages collaboration among public health organizations, law enforcement agencies, and community-based groups. Our podcast series highlights innovative approaches at the nine demonstration sites that have received funding under the program.

In this week's podcasts, we're looking at Cabarrus Students Taking a Right Stand or STARS in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. STARS is a school-based youth leadership program for males aimed at creating a healthy, positive school community through mentorship and positive role modeling. Key activities for this initiative include youth development, academic enrichment activities, service learning, tutoring, case management, and in-home parent resources. Through Cabarrus STARS’ partnership with local law enforcement, the police department's student resource officers serve as mentors and assist with youth programming.

We're focusing this podcast on the specialized curriculum Cabarrus STARS uses with its youth, as well as the program’s use of a range of evidence-based tools.

POPE-SUSSMAN: Hi. This is Raphael Pope-Sussman of the Center for Court Innovation. In today's podcast we're looking at the Cabarrus STARS, or Students Taking a Right Stand, program in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. Joining us today are Katie Dight and Rolanda Patrick, program managers at Cabarrus STARS, and Sue Yates, chief financial officer for the Cabarrus Health Alliance. Katie, Rolanda, and Sue, thank you for speaking with me today and welcome.

ALL: Thank you.

POPE-SUSSMAN: It's great to have you here. To start out, can you describe how Cabarrus STARS works?

KATIE DIGHT: This is Katie Dight. We are a three-tiered program. We have tier one, which is systems level training and change within the schools. Tier two, which is our positive youth development piece of it where we have a group-level intervention. Then tier three, where we have intensive individual services both for the students, and then a parental engagement piece.

POPE-SUSSMAN: The program partners with four schools. Can you talk me through those partnerships a bit? I know you focus on school climate and bullying as part of that.

PATRICK: Yes, sir. In regards to the four schools that we currently work with, two are located in Kannapolis City, so we actually work with two different school systems. The first being Kannapolis City and the second being Cabarrus County Schools. The schools in general are Kannapolis Middle School and A.L. Brown High School, both in Kannapolis, and Concord High School and Concord Middle School in Cabarrus County. We're able to work with a minimum of 15 students, 15 to 17 students, at each school for 15 weeks. We begin in September, our first session will end in January. Our second semester will begin in January and end in May. During that time, we're able to implement an evidence-based curriculum called Too Good for Violence at the middle school level and Too Good for Drugs and Violence on the high school level. At every school, we're able to work with them for 15 weeks, a minimum of two hours.

Our other partners include our local law enforcement agencies, so that would be Kannapolis City Police Department, as well as the Cabarrus County Police Department. We also have partnerships with the Youth Educational Services Society in Charlotte. They actually serve as our facilitators for our program. We also have a facilitator that comes from the Boys and Girls Club.

DIGHT: In addition to that, each of the four schools also receives case management services. I'm sorry, this is Katie Dight. They are given to about eight students per year at each of the four sites. Those students are selected from our group and they might receive something like an interactive journaling program, some of them get a mentor. We try to team them up with mentors who are either connected to their school or local public servants, either firefighters or police officers. This year we expanded our mentoring program a little bit. We now work with more teachers and coaches than we did last year.

PATRICK: We have a total of 13 mentors.

POPE-SUSSMAN: I'd love to hear a little bit more about interactive journaling and the mechanism behind that part of the curriculum.

DIGHT: Sure. This is Katie Dight and I oversee the case manager who uses the interactive journaling program. It's called Keep It Direct and Simple, or KIDS for short. It's a series that's divided up into different needs that the student might identify. We first meet with the student before we select a journal. Once we kind of get to know them, talk about what they see as some of their biggest challenges, we help them select a journal that might be most useful. For instance, a lot of our students select the one that is called Anger and Other Feelings, other students opt for the one called Personal Relationships. It's really a great system that walks the student through each of these problems that are really in-depth but in an easy to understand way.

Our middle and high schoolers both use it. We've seen some pretty good results. There's a pre- and post-test for each of the journals. They ask things--for instance, for the Anger and Other Feelings, they'll ask students to name five major feelings that they've experienced. For a lot of our students, it's difficult to name anything other than maybe angry or sad when we first start, but by the end of it they're able to identify other ones such as grief or shame or guilt, which just helps the students really expand their vocabulary and put words to what they're feeling rather than just always resorting back to anger as their number one. We really aim to have each student who's in case management complete one journal at least. Most of them I can at least get onto the second one and like we said, we let the students kind of guide which one they're interested in, which one they think will benefit the most.

In addition to the KIDS series, we have another one we pull a few different extra assignments from. They're totally up to the student but we find that they kind of complement one another. It's aimed towards an older crowd, particularly a crowd that might be in the juvenile justice system. Most of our kids don't have that involvement but we do find that some of those different activities have been helpful for the students to kind of go over in depth with our case manager.

POPE-SUSSMAN: Are there other evidence-based tools that you have in use right now or that you plan to use?

PATRICK: This is Rolanda. For the program, yes. Again, the evidence-based curriculum that we utilize for the group-level component of our program, Too Good for Drugs and Too Good for Drugs and Violence. They were both created by the Mendez Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia.

POPE-SUSSMAN: How do those operate?

PATRICK: Each curriculum has ten weeks of sessions. The topics include: conflict resolution, healthy relationships, goal setting, decision making, identifying and managing emotions, bullying, peer violence, dating, drugs, media, and influence. Each curriculum activity lasts about 55 minutes in general. Immediately following our curriculum lesson, we conduct positive development-type activities with our youth that reflect team building and respect with a local partner, Capstone Climbing and Adventure. That guides the young men through activities like low ropes course, working together, and making the right decisions. We also include positive youth development activities as hip-hop workshops as well as inviting local law enforcement officers in to talk to the youth about current events.

POPE-SUSSMAN: So the facilitators are all black men and the population of youth, they're all young men. I'm curious about the philosophy behind that.

PATRICK: This is Rolanda. In regards to your question, we believe that our participants will respond best by identifying with a person that looks like them. So in regards to our facilitators, we do have three African-American male facilitators. While the young men do work well with myself and Ms. Katie Dight, when it comes to personal topics and just sharing what it means to be a young man, what it means to be a young man in America, how to conquer some of the challenges that males face, it's easier for them to build this relationship and have that dialogue with a male facilitator versus a female facilitator.

DIGHT: This is Katie Dight. In addition to the facilitators, we also have all of our mentors. It is a requirement that all the mentors are male. They don't have to be specifically men of color but we do, like Rolanda mentioned, find it most helpful when the students can see in either the facilitators or the mentors a positive male role model.

POPE-SUSSMAN: How do young people respond to that?

PATRICK: This is Rolanda. They absolutely love it. In regards to our attendance, we have about a 93 percent retention rate throughout all 15 weeks. I would say that our young men are actually enjoying the program and they are actually suggesting that their friends request to participate in the upcoming semesters.

POPE-SUSSMAN: I'm wondering if you might have a story of a young man who came into the program and the outcome for him when he came out of the program.

PATRICK: This is Rolanda. Last year it was brought to our attention that a young man, he was a 7th grader at one of our middle schools, he did not respect teachers, he did not respect the administration. He received about 15 disciplinary write-ups last year. This year he's in our STARS program at one of our middle schools. This young man shared about two weeks ago that he did not like the police. He did not like police officers. It didn't matter whether they were male, if they were female, regardless of their race or ethnicity. We also have an activity called Pizza with Police that we host at our four schools. This young man, he participated. He didn't say anything but he was definitely observing what was going on. Immediately following that session, he shared with myself that he was interested in receiving a mentor and that he wanted the mentor to be a police officer. That just goes to show how our activities are actually able to change the mindset of some of our participants.

POPE-SUSSMAN: On a more macro scale, I'm wondering how you're measuring outcomes across the program.

DIGHT: Sure, this is Katie. We have a couple different ways that we've been measuring it. First of all, we do without group-level individuals, we do a pre- and post-test. The very first day of the program they receive two different evaluations. One is focusing on student knowledge and that could be about bullying behavior, that could be about substance abuse. Then the other one is student attitudes and that's just towards their general attitudes on violence in general. They take that on the first day of the program and then they complete the same two surveys on the last day of the program. So they have a semester of learning between the two. We contract with an evaluator from UNC Charlotte. He'll help us determine if there's significant differences in between those two pre- and post-.

In addition to that, we have a group of control students at each of our four schools, so that's about 15 students, who have been matched with the STARS participants in terms of age, race, and their different behaviors at school. Some of them have actually then gone on to be referred for their program for the second semester. They are also given the pre- and post- test at the start and end of the semester. We compare whether or not the intervention group has improved in comparison to the control group. So that's one set that we do.

Another one is a school climate survey. That's conducted in April. We did one last April, we'll do one in 2016, and we'll do one more in 2017. We do that at our four target sites as well as two control schools. They have schools that have been matched in terms of just general demographics, poverty levels in regards to free and reduced lunch, the different ethnic makeup of the schools. We try to match them as closely as possible. They receive a school climate survey that's about 60 questions. We've added a few additional ones in terms of their relation with their police departments in their neighborhood to gauge how students and staff are feeling on that. Then 10 percent of the school takes that. So it's not just one grade, but rather all four grades in high school they're asked to take it or both of the grades in the middle school has to take it. That way we get a wide representation about what school climate is in regards to "Is my school a safe place? Is my school clean? Do I feel welcomed?" Then staff is asked to take a very similar school climate. Then we compare our target schools with our control schools to see how school climate as a whole is being impacted.

POPE-SUSSMAN: Do you have some of those earlier results?

DIGHT: We do. We have our first semester. We did see improvements, particularly within our intervention groups in terms of their student attitude and student knowledge prior to the start of the program compared to the end of it. The school climate, since it was a baseline, we don't have any real data about how we're doing in terms of improving that. When we started, our control schools were actually doing well in terms of their school climate as compared to our intervention schools. So there's definitely room for improvement but we did see a lot of positive feedback from the staff and students in terms of what areas they'd like to see improved upon.

POPE-SUSSMAN: What's next?

DIGHT: We are working on this second semester, we have three more ... I'm sorry, this is Katie again. We have three more semesters following this so the spring, then the next year will be fall 2016 and spring 2017. We'll continue to monitor school climate for the next two spring surveys. We'll continue to work with three more groups of students. Right now we're just focused on the students that we have, both in our group-level intervention as well as case management. We'll start to think a little bit about our summer enrichment activities. Over the next few weeks those ideas will really start to come together as we plan for the summer.

PATRICK: This is Rolanda. Also, building on our tutoring program at our middle schools, increasing the number of mentors that we have, as well as the number of programs and participation that our local law enforcement agencies provide.

POPE-SUSSMAN: Wonderful. Do you have anything else to add?

PATRICK: This is Rolanda. I would like to add that it is a pleasure working with our four schools. We've had the opportunity to reach over 120 students thus far. Katie and I are definitely looking forward to the upcoming semesters as well as the summer. It's a pleasure to work with the parents, the teachers, the administrators of course as we're building and encouraging our young men to be as successful as possible.

POPE-SUSSMAN: Well, thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with me today.

PATRICK: It's our pleasure.

DIGHT: Absolutely.

POPE-SUSSMAN: This has been Raphael Pope-Sussman of the Center for Court Innovation. We've been speaking with Katie Dight and Rolanda Patrick, program managers at Cabarrus STARS, and Sue Yates, Chief Financial Officer for the Cabarrus Health Alliance. For more information on the Center for Court Innovation, visit www.courtinnovation.org.

 

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