Last spring, Principal Dr. Beal asked the Palomares Empowerment Program (PEP) if we could consider offering a CGIE Empowerment Program as part of the school curriculum. The advantages of offering a program in the school curriculum are numerous and include the following:
In the past two years Principal Dr. Beal and Palomares school staff were impressed by the transforming outcome of the PEP on students even though many came with great challenges personally, socially, emotionally, psychologically and academically. This is not unique to the students of Palomares. In an article published by LAUSD we are struck by the severity of the mental and emotional baggage kids bring to school and how little our schools are prepared to address these crises. The article, “The Need for School Mental Health Services in LAUSD,” says, “Shocking statistics tell the local and national story of the need for mental health services for students, families and school communities. Both within LAUSD and across the nation, an overwhelming number of students come to school every day with a myriad of adversities and mental health problems that compromise their ability to learn and achieve academically. Research suggests that schools function as the de facto mental health system for children and adolescents.”
The integrated approach CGIE employs in designing and implementing the PEP has proven most effective in addressing the mind as well as the heart of the students. The result is that the students are not only interested and engaged in learning, but also showing improvement in their relationships both at home and in school. CGIE hears about incidents from the principal, school counselor, and teachers that indicate significant change in the self awareness, impulse control, persistence, perseverance, zeal, self motivation, and empathy of students; where students are able to manage themselves independent of negative social forces around them. In one incident, Mr. Shone, the school counselor, shared with me how he was surprised to see one of our PEP students greet him with a smile and ask him how he was doing. When Mr. Shone told her he had a long day, she responded that she noticed he was not as cheerful as he usually is! Mr. Shone shared with me that he would never have expected this level of awareness and empathy from this student prior to her participation in the PEP.
We hear, “by their fruits ye shall know them,” and the PEP has been producing real sweet fruits these past 4 years. Consequently, midway last year Principal Dr. Beal selected about 22 of the school’s best students to benefit from CGIE’s proven and unique curriculum during their project period during the school day! She wanted them to learn the critical life skills the PEP was so successful in teaching such as: self awareness, self knowledge, interpersonal relations skills for their own lives and also for community service, leadership, critical thinking, goal setting and choice making, mindfulness, consultation, conflict resolution, and community building skills. All of the above mentioned life skills seem to fall right at the center of the overall umbrella of the PEP, which is celebrating unity in diversity.
The program was offered every Wednesday at project period, a period held before lunch and designated for community service projects, making it possible for students to stay longer and make the best of this valuable opportunity for self development and growth. The hope and plan for continuation and sustainability of the effects of the pilot program, however, did not materialize. The challenge we faced is that the present system of education only recognizes academics as education. Students feel strapped to run for the academics and graduate with the intention of attending college! How about the high percentage of our students who do attend college and never graduate or make it in real life due to deficiencies in real life skills?!! In a research paper published by the Higher Learning Commission 2016, one instructor summarizes the problem as, “Many of the students (attending) two-year colleges in large cities come from the Urban Public Schools where they have not necessarily encountered a quality education and experienced a deep understanding of real learning as opposed to externalized and superficial learning.” In another research article published by Education Week entitled, “H.S. Dropouts Say Lack of Motivation Top Reason to Quit,” describes how drop out students look back and share their insight about why they gave up.
“Large proportions of all the former students interviewed, 70 percent to 80 percent, said they wanted better teachers and more interesting classes, including the opportunity for more “real world” learning opportunities.Former students often cited a lack of motivation and of interesting classes as reasons they eventually disappeared from school. Sixty-nine percent said they were not motivated or inspired to work hard. Nearly half said their classes were not interesting. Two-thirds said they would have worked harder if they had been challenged to do so.
‘They just let you pass, anything you got,’ said one focus-group participant.”
The transforming effect of the PEP has became manifest in the life and character of the students we touch. Changes can be seen in the ways students interact with each other, the way they express themselves with creativity and confidence, their smiling faces, their appreciation for choosing to have a radiant and joyful spirit, their understanding of the value of being engaged, their taking interest in finding creative solutions to issues in their lives and community, their knowledge and zeal in applying metaphoric and meaningful thinking, in knowing and using elevated social discourse on important issues related to their lives and roles as community builders and members of one human race.
Storytelling and story making has been one of the most favorite PEP activities among students. Stories serve as powerful and effective means of examining human character, potential and spirit. Students are excited and empowered to learn about what makes us unique as a species; how our minds use the faculty of imagination and metaphoric thinking to reach beyond the stars, how through our aspirations we feel inspired and choose to be a cause of good in the life of others and do everything we can to make it a reality against all odds.
The 2015-2016 school year ended too soon for our program to make an even bigger dent. In consultation with Principal Dr. Beal, we learned that having the program one day of the week was not doing justice to the students need for real life skills and engaging experiences. The question was raised if CGIE can offer its Empowerment Program as part of the school curriculum, during the school day, every day? Every day – I gasped! I asked my devoted and dedicated 5 interns and to my delight they said yes!! Again, with consultation with Dr. Beal and Fernando Mesa from the Pomona School District, the PEP accepted to offer its Empowerment Program during the school day, every day – with an added curriculum of integrating a transformative mediation component.
Again with consultation with Dr. Beal, and Fernando Mesa from School District, PEP accepted to offer its empowerment program in the school program with an added curriculum of integrating transformative mediation component, every day in the school program.
The program still in its initial pilot state has been an impressive success.
CGIE is looking for an assessment, evaluation scale to document the extraordinary nature of the program. As a real proof of our excellence, recently I learned from a dear friend and colleague living in New York that she has been closely following our program and using our videos and blogs to work with a group of youth in a nearby disadvantaged community. A school district has approached her and has asked for a proposal to write a 4 year grant for the program!! She asked me how I felt about she using CGIE website to write her proposal. I said I feel flattered and glad to see we are serving in collaboration the betterment of education on a global forum.
I studied a helpful document called Measuring Youth Program Quality; A guide to Assessment tools 2nd edition Published by The Forum for Youth Investment January 2009 in order to make some preliminary assessment of our excellence in different aspects of our Empowerment Program and was most proud and uplifted, though not surprised, by what I learned about the superior nature of our program. In every scale, PEP rated at the top of the scale by any measure. I like to share a few of these scales bellow.
Looking at the above picture, I am most encouraged as both the school, our team, the parents and the students rank our program at the top of the scale in all categories above.
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