Men in the Making | City of Ideas
Issue to be Addressed:
Developmental needs of adolescent boys of color are inadequately addressed in confronting urban challenges. Boys significantly outnumber girls in school suspensions, expulsions, learning disabilities, and social-emotional deficiencies, and, among teens, boys far exceed girls in correctional facilities. The number of boys that “fall through the cracks” is startling—leaving them with the likelihood of unfulfilled lives, taxing public resources, and diminishing valuable human capital essential to Boston’s social and economic competitiveness. Up to 75% of low-income boys of color have little or no contact with their fathers to provide counsel and structure in their lives. Many do poorly in school and fail to graduate; make bad decisions; join gangs, abuse drugs/alcohol; engage in unsafe sex; impregnate female peers; participate in disruptive/violent behavior; enter the criminal justice system; and do not develop beneficial employment skills. Boston schools struggle with this phenomenon, with too few teachers equipped to address developmental challenges boys pose. Behavioral issues must be addressed early in boys’ lives, for, as they reach teenage years, those not having achieved academic stability or unable to visualize life beyond their compromised circumstances typically choose unproductive paths, becoming troubled young men at the center of urban instability.
To be effective, urban schools must tackle issues students bring into classrooms and onto playing fields. Boston schools have insufficient resources to address the social-emotional developmental needs of substantial numbers of children. By building productive collaborations with preK-8/middle schools, Family Service of Greater Boston (FSGB) brings value-added resources to boost schools’ capacity to change boys’ behavior and elevate teachers’ skills. MIM, a highly replicable and scalable school-based mentoring/capacity building initiative, supports healthy development in low-income, adolescent boys of color and increases effectiveness of the Boston public schools that serve them. With a mental health focus, MIM trains teachers to recognize behavioral health barriers facing boys; know when and how to encourage boys’ families to access clinical and parenting skills support; and understand the interplay between personal concepts of race, class and gender and the way those ideas impact development and educational progress of boys under their guidance. The curriculum focuses on expanding their awareness of male development and provides tools and strategies to address disruptive behaviors that impact both teaching and learning for this vulnerable population. With enhanced skills, teachers’ impact in addressing boys’ needs becomes exponential. The long-term efficacy of MIM will evaluated with research assistance from Simmons College.
Role of Collaboration:
A collaboration of FSGB, Boston Public Schools and Simmons College, The only such program in Boston, MIM was developed in association with Daren Graves, Director/Simmons Urban Master's Program, which prepares teachers to view urban adolescents of color as assets in the teaching and learning process. We are piloting MIM at Dorchester’s Neighborhood House Charter School, established in 1995 and serving diverse community of 400 students. Professor Graves and FSGB trainers utilize the MIM curriculum to enhance teachers’ understanding of male development , and our clinicians counsel boys displaying persistent disruptive behaviors and consult with teachers on behavior management issues.
Founded in 1835 and annually serving the mental health needs of nearly 6,000 children, youth and families, FSGB has long provided onsite clinical support to Boston school students and offered in-home counseling to students and their families. Therapeutic services are effective in addressing students’ mental health issues on a one-to-one basis. That said, the number of students needing services limits the scale of our impact. With thousands to engage, even the collective resources of all private and school-based social service providers are insufficient to address individual behavioral health challenges. Based in our nationally-accredited behavioral health clinic, MIM enhances teachers’ skills by developing their ability to recognize and address boys’ social-emotional issues. While one-on-one therapeutic relationships are important, longer-term interests of the community are best served by establishing a school’s in-house capacity that enables teachers—working in a therapeutic mentoring environment—to identify and manage behaviors detrimental to boys individually and the school community generally. No public funding is available to support this effort, currently underwritten by limited foundation grants. A Collaborate Boston award would provide greatly-needed funding to expand MIM clinical services and teacher training to a larger number of Boston schools.
In most respects, effectively addressing boys’ behavioral challenges depends upon the ability of teachers and parents to understand and respond appropriately to fundamental male development issues. Research documents varied causes for the achievement disparity between low-income boys of color and more fortunate peers, most relating to diminished socioeconomic status, cultural environment, and family circumstances, as well as quality of students' schools and teachers’ skills. Clearly, students living in persistent poverty are more likely to suffer from conditions impeding learning. They typically attend schools inadequately funded and staffed with teachers who have little, if any, training in child development. Intervention early in boys’ lives with strategies that address the consequences of such disparities increases the likelihood they receive support needed to overcome their circumstances and are able to break the cycle of disadvantage that characterizes their families’ lives. Further, by expanding the capacity of teachers to address boys’ social-emotional needs in an informed, insightful and sensitive manner, MIM has the potential to change how schools devise approaches for managing the development of young male students. Reaching boys as they actively move into the external world can disrupt the impact of community and family instability that shapes their behavior.
Sam Solomon is Director of Development at Family Service of Greater Boston and the author of multiple documents relating to the Men in the Making initiative.
KEVIN WICKER is Director, Center for Behavioral Health at Family Service of Greater Boston, which conceived and launched the Men in the Making initiative. Founded in 1835, Family Service is one of New England’s leading social welfare agencies, a high value human service provider offering comprehensive programs/services committed to improving the lives of highly vulnerable children, youth and families. Focused on disrupting cycle of intergenerational family dysfunction among Boston residents struggling with emotional, psychological, physical and economic impact of poverty, abuse, violence and parental neglect, Family Service targets prevention/harm reduction; peer/family education; social-emotional competency; parenting skill-building; and behavioral health/trauma challenges; to prevent and/or alleviate factors which could lead to family or community crisis.
KEVIN ANDREWS is the founding Headmaster of Dorchester's Neighborhood House Charter School—one of the original 14 Massachusetts charter schools—established in 1995 to provide an enhanced educational option for low-income Boston families and to incubate and disseminate innovative practices with the potential to improve public education generally. Today, NHCS serves 400 students and is one of the most sought-after preK–8 public schools in the city, successfully serving a diverse community of children from Dorchester and surrounding Boston neighborhoods.
The MIM curriculum was developed and field-tested under the guidance of PROFESSOR DAREN GRAVES, Ed.D., Director of the Simmons College Urban Master's Program, which focuses on preparing teachers to view urban youth as assets in the teaching and learning process and on heightening their awareness of the interplay of school culture and racial identity on the academic performance of black adolescents. MIM embodies an intentional mentoring strategy focused on strengthening adult-youth relationships by working with teachers, other-school staff and parents to build a framework to support the positive development of boys and to create and sustain school-based, gender-sensitive programs that promote healthy social-emotional development.