Promise Neighborhoods Research Consortium Blog Just another WordPress site 2011-05-27T16:03:07Z WordPress cody <![CDATA[A Day at a Positive Action School]]> 2011-05-25T16:28:33Z 2011-05-25T16:28:33Z Carol Gerber Allred, Ph.D., President/Developer of Positive Action, Inc., has sent us this wonderful essay about a typical day at a Positive Action (PA) school. You can learn more about PA on the PNRC website or on the website for Positive Action, a successful evidence-based practice.

It is Monday morning about a half an hour before school starts at a Positive Action K-8 school on Fourteenth and Taylor. Some parents are dropping off their children, a school bus delivers some, and other children are walking to school. They are all looking forward to another week of school. They like their school: it’s a fun, affirming place to be and the learning is great too. They greet each other warmly and, as they enter the school, they say hello to their principal, teachers, and other support staff, who are waiting to welcome them to another new opportunity for learning the basics: what to do to feel good about themselves and to discover even further how they each are uniquely great.

The school bell rings and they are in their seats waiting for the daily announcements. This week Mrs. Brown’s class is giving the word of the week, which happens to be “empathy.” One of the students in the class states the word and the definition while others follow with examples and a role-play.

The teacher starts the day with a Positive Action lesson. The lesson is also on empathy. In a kindergarten class, the teacher delivers Lesson 79 from the teacher’s manual. It has the students repeat the word and definition and then it gives three short vignettes. One is about a boy, Tommy, whose mother is sick and his teacher empathizes with him because he has had a daughter who has been ill. After the vignette, students take turns coming up to the front of the class and standing in Tommy’s footprints outlined on a piece of construction paper and telling how they think he feels. They hear another vignette about Mrs. Brewer who comes home and finds that no one did their chores before they went to school and the house is a mess. Another is Ms. Lee, a kindergarten teacher, who is taking her class on a field trip but she has had a cold and has lost her voice so when her class gets off the bus and start running in all directions, she doesn’t know what to do. They practice empathy by standing in the shoes of each the characters. Five-year-olds have learned and can practice empathy—really!

Down the hall, in fact, down all the halls, teachers are in their classrooms teaching age-appropriate lessons from Unit 4—Getting Along with Others by Treating Them the Way You Like to be Treated. One lesson is on empathy, another is on respect, and another is on kindness. These are just some of the ways we like to be treated. In every class, on a Code of Conduct chart, students list ways they like others to treat them. Everyone likes others to treat them in positive ways. This list becomes their Code of Conduct.

Out in the hall and on the way to recess and lunch, students are treating others the way they like to be treated. Teachers are mingling with the students and they have Words of the Week cards in their pockets. When they witness a student practicing the ways they like to be treated, they take that card out of their pocket and hand it to the student. They tell the student that they saw the student do the positive action and ask that student how he/she felt about him/herself when they treated a classmate positively. The student will reflect and conclude that he/she felt good about it and the teacher will tell the student that the card is a reminder of the good feeling they got when they did that positive action.

In the afternoon, the students are working quietly on a project. They help each other and when someone slips up and makes a mistake, the other students pitch in to help the student get it right. They might also say, “What were you thinking?” because they know that a negative behavior is led by a negative thought and they know that that student won’t be feeling too good about him/herself because you feel negative about yourself when you do a negative action and they want the student to get it right so he/she can get a better feeling about him/herself.

From time to time the students, teachers, or others in the school will also observe a student or someone do a positive action and they will go to the ICU Doing Something Positive Box and write a note about the positive action they saw that person do. On Friday, they will open the ICU Box and read the notes. The students love it—actually so do the teachers, the custodian, the assistant principal, and everyone in the school—because everyone gets recognition for positive actions in the ICU Box.

Today is a special day because it is assembly day and it is fun! Every unit, or seven times, they have an assembly to introduce the next Positive Action unit. They sing the Positive Action theme song, “I Am a Positive Action Kid” or one of the other 26 songs in the program. They perform a skit or two. If teachers believe student should receive special recognition for a positive action that he/she has done, those students receive award certificates. Classrooms that have reached their goal for the number of times they followed the class rules receive a balloon. It is a special moment because there are moms and dads in the audience who will see how positive their children’s school is.

This week is really going to be the best because there is a Family Class on Wednesday night and the whole family gets to go. When they arrive, they each have their own hour-long class: one for children, one for adolescents, and one for parents. At the end of that time, they all get together and review the positive actions they have learned in their respective classes. As they enjoy some refreshments, they talk about how they can do those positive actions as a family. The great thing is that these positive actions are the same ones students are learning and doing at school. It sure is good that mom and dad—and teachers and principals—are talking about positive actions the same way.

And speaking about hearing positive actions the same way, if a student needs extra help, that student can go to the counselor or other school support person for some extra help. The counselor has his/her own manual to guide him/her on how to apply positive actions to more specific needs students might have.

There is one more reason this is going to be a great week. The community is holding a health fair and everyone is invited. There are going to be booths, lots of them. One to measure your height, weight, and girth; one to show you how to make some great snacks that won’t pack the weight on; and races and other fun ideas about how to keep fit. All of these super ideas are right out of the Positive Action Community Kit manual.

Things sure do go better when everyone is working together to do positive actions. Life can’t be beat when everyone is trying to act positively—all day, every day.

cody <![CDATA[Reframing School Discipline from “Who is to blame” To “How can we support each other to be more successful?”]]> 2011-05-21T00:36:22Z 2011-05-21T00:36:22Z Dr. Jeffrey Sprague, Professor of Special Education, Director of the University of Oregon Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior, is currently the Principal Investigator of a NIDA research grant and co-investigator of three Institute of Education Sciences Goal 2 projects. He seems to be one of the busiest people on the planet, so we are immensely grateful that he found the time to write this both timely and optimistic essay.

Since the era of mass school shootings in the United States, students with emotional and behavioral challenges have come to be treated in ways that conflict with what we now know about how they came to be challenging, and what can be done about it. The frustration and stress experienced by teachers, administrators, and parents is substantial. Many teachers experience enormous stress while attempting to “discipline” disruptive students, and often do not feel adequately supported by their colleagues or parents. Teachers often tell me, “I just want something that works” and yet, when I ask them how they define “what works,” they are unclear. This lack of perceived job control and professional efficacy (not knowing if what I am doing is making a difference) results in high levels of stress and can directly lead to burnout or other unhealthy responses to the problem. Fully one half of all new teachers leave the field within their first four years, citing students with behavioral challenges and their parents as one of the main reasons.

Over the past 15 years, the use of “consequences” such as office referrals, suspensions, and expulsions has skyrocketed. Paradoxically, these practices actually increase aggressive behavior, truancy, and school dropout. A common response to is to increase the length of time to remove a student from the classroom if a behavior problem is not resolved quickly. This only makes the problem worse in the long term for students and teachers. For teachers, the temporary “relief” from removing a student quickly vanishes when the student returns with the same challenges.

Some teachers respond to this spiraling cycle by demanding ever more intense “punishment,” others may simply work harder to try to solve each student’s problems, and still others will engage in harmful behaviors such as complaining about or criticizing students, parents, colleagues, and “the system.” In the worst situations, some will resort to alcohol or drug use (prescribed and otherwise) in order to “cope.” Each response may bring some short-term relief but will exacerbate the problem in the end. There has to be a “new move.”

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) brings us this “new move” and I have already seen the positive benefits of using ACT principles and practices in my work with teachers all over the world. First, we use metaphor and mindfulness practices embedded in staff development and consultation to help teachers accept that change is very difficult for some students, and that their problems are a result of delayed skill development in key social areas (e.g., impulse control, problem solving, and empathy). Helping teachers clarify their core values about their work with colleagues and students helps remind them that they can help students become “safe, respectful, and responsible” if first they become collectively clear about what those behaviors look like, and second we model those values ourselves. Finally, taking valued action on a daily and long-term basis requires teachers to remain mindful of their core values and plans. The most powerful methods we have learned are to share data regularly about improvements or new problems (mindfulness) and to teach problem-solving methods (often called Functional Behavior Assessment) so we can systematically pursue our values.

I hold great respect and hope for our teachers, and believe that ACT provides a foundational framework for improving our sense of effectiveness and personal wellbeing.

cody <![CDATA[The Importance of Preventing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders]]> 2011-05-12T19:59:58Z 2011-05-12T19:59:58Z Tony Biglan, Co-Director of the PNRC, has written this timely message for our Journal.

Recent Institute of Medicine reports on prevention and treatment1-3 document the extensive progress made in prevention of most mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Exponential growth in the number of randomized controlled trials over the past 15 years has delineated programs and policies to prevent depression; anxiety disorders; antisocial behavior; academic failure; tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use and abuse; premature or unsafe sex; inadequate exercise; schizophrenia; and poor dietary habits. Interventions are available throughout the lifespan from the prenatal period through adolescence. They effectively target the major social-environmental influences on problem development—families, schools, and peers. This knowledge could significantly reduce the prevalence of these common, costly problems in entire populations. Estimates of the annual US costs of these problems range from $247 billion1 to $435 billion.4

What typically fails to gain attention is the benefit that preventing these problems would have for reducing the burden of physical illness in the US. Depression; academic failure (and its attendant poverty); tobacco, alcohol,

and other drug use and abuse; delinquency; premature or unsafe sex; inadequate exercise; and poor dietary habits account for a large proportion of the cases of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer, which the Centers for Disease Control indicate are the two leading causes of death in the US. For example, the INTERHEART study of risk factors for heart disease found that psychosocial factors such as depression and stress have a population attributable risk of 32% for myocardial infarction, slightly less than that for smoking, but greater than for hypertension and obesity.5

  1.  NRC & IOM. 2009. Preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders among young people: progress and possibilities. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  2. NRC & IOM, 2007. Ending the tobacco problem: A blueprint for the nation. Washington, DC: NAP.
  3. NRC & IOM. 2009. Depression in parents, parenting, and children. Washington, DC: NAP.
  4. Biglan A, Brennan P, Foster S, Holder H. 2004. Helping adolescents at risk. New York: Guilford.
  5. Sheps DS, Frasure-Smith N, Freedland KE, Carney RM. 2004. The INTERHEART Study: Intersection between behavioral and general medicine. Psychosomatic Medicine 66, 797-798.
cody <![CDATA[Chaundrissa Smith and her Work with Adamsville]]> 2011-05-07T00:18:56Z 2011-04-29T23:01:27Z Chaundrissa Oyeshiku Smith, PhD, is a key member of the PNRC. She is a Clinical Psychologist and Assistant Professor at Emory University School of Medicine. She sent the following post to us from Atlanta. 

It is always gratifying to find members of a community who are truly committed to their community. I was fortunate to encounter that kind of commitment during my work over the last year with Atlanta’s Adamsville neighborhood. Adamsville has the potential for great things and several community members passionately dedicated to make great things happen. In early 2010, I met two inspiring Adamsville community stakeholders who have been instrumental in moving their neighborhood forward in identifying priority goals for the community and in creating a plan of action to achieve these goals.

To understand Adamsville, you have to understand the pivotal role that the Adamsville Recreation Center plays within this neighborhood. The Center is one of the first things you see when you exit the interstate and drive down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and it is an impressive structure. Completed in 2003, it features an Olympic-size pool, gymnasium, and many classes and programs for community members. Neighborhood residents pay no membership fees or any other fees to use the facility. They simply have to sign in when they arrive and sign out when they leave. On a typical day, youth play basketball in the gym, little girls wearing frothy tutus prepare for dance class, and perhaps a group of adults is preparing for a weekly or monthly meeting. The indoor pool is always bustling, with teens practicing for their swim team or adults swimming laps. On weekends, community members can even rent out space for wedding receptions.

It is clear that the Adamsville Recreation Center is the epicenter of this community. Yet, Adamsville community members know that they could bring an even greater number of exciting activities to the Center. In the fall of 2010, Adamsville community stakeholders joined forces with the PNRC to hold community meetings in order to identify its needs and to develop strategies necessary to meet those needs. Of course, this meeting took place at the Adamsville Recreation Center!

At the forefront, Adamsville community members Cornelia King and Yolanda Reid have created a grassroots momentum to encourage positive change in the community. With their strong networking skills, they have emailed, called, met with, and strategized with individuals at all levels of local and even state government representatives to advocate for the needs of Adamsville. Further, they have submitted small grant applications to receive funding for enrichment programs that the Center would house. Other leaders within the Center submitted the Adamsville Recreation Center as a candidate for a $50,000 award from Maxwell House to renovate the center. Moreover, Cornelia and Yolanda are leading the effort to propose that Mayor Kasim Reed’s Centers of Hope Initiative chooses the Adamsville Recreation Center as a pilot center.

Adamsville is definitely on the road to accomplish great things, and, as with all grassroots efforts, sometimes it takes some time to get there. Partnerships like these make my role on the PNRC so worthwhile, and I look forward to continuing to walk this road with the Adamsville community.

admin <![CDATA[A Promising Future for Lane County]]> http://localhost:8888/pnrc_blog/?p=1 2011-05-27T16:03:07Z 2011-04-12T18:33:26Z All over America communities are organizing to improve outcomes for young people living in high poverty neighborhoods.  Here is a glimpse of one effort that I am proud to be connected with.

I while back I had the honor of giving the keynote address to Lane County United Way’s Promise Neighborhood Initiative.  The initiative is an inspiring example of what communities can do to nurture young people’s development from the prenatal period through early adulthood.

President Obama developed the Promise Neighborhood idea as a way to replicate the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ).  HCZ provides supports to children from the prenatal period through early adulthood in a 98 square block area of Harlem. The children in this neighborhood are doing much better in school that students in Harlem have typically done.

The administration set up a program to fund communities to plan promise neighborhoods programs.  I helped United Way of Lane County write a proposal to the Department of Education to get a planning grant for this effort.  We did not get funded, but we said at the time we wrote it, that we would move forward with the effort whatever the outcome.

Lane County’s Promise Neighborhood initiative is built on Success by Six, an effort led by United Way to improve outcomes for young children. It began 12 years ago.

I was at the Success by Six meeting a year or so ago when they took the bold step of focusing on two of the highest poverty neighborhoods in the county, one in the Bethel area of Eugene, the other in Springfield. This required people from other parts of the county to agree on concentrating resources in these neighborhoods. They agreed because they realized that if we can demonstrably improve outcomes in these two neighborhoods it will justify putting additional resources into additional neighborhoods. If we spread our limited resources over the whole county, we would never be able to show that comprehensive efforts can work.

A large and growing network of nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies are cooperating with United Way and the Bethel and Springfield school districts to make a difference in these neighborhoods.

One of the first things Success by Six did is get data on the pre-reading skills of every kindergarten child coming into the four schools in the two target neighborhoods. About 50% of children are at high risk to not learn to read. Now they are setting up systems to reach every family of a preschooler and every day care and preschool provider to support them in reading to children, teaching them vocabulary, and getting them ready to succeed, once they get to school.

(Success by Six is getting these measures on virtually every kindergartener in the county. I am blown away by this. It means that, over time, we will be able to see how our young children are doing and to motivate our communities to find ways to ensure that every child is ready to thrive in school.)

United Way is now working to get sponsors to support evidence-based school and family support programs and practices that can improve children’s’ chances of success.

For example, Katherine Pears of Oregon Social Learning Center has developed the Kids in Transition to School program which is delivered to children in the summer before they start school. A randomized trial Katherine did showed that the program improves children’s readiness to learn.

It has sometimes been said that we fought the war on poverty and poverty won.  But unlike the last war on poverty we have research evidence and tools to guide us.  There are many evidence-based programs, policies, and practices that can make a difference. And we now know how to carefully measure and evaluate whether what we are doing works. Our efforts will get better as we monitor outcomes and modify what we do in light of the evidence.

I think our biggest challenge in Lane County and around the country is to convince everyone that we can do this. For many years skepticism about social programs was understandable, because there wasn’t much hard evidence that they worked.  But that is no longer true.

Once we realize that these interventions can work, it becomes a question of our values.  What kind of communities do we want?  Do we want ones that make the success of every child a priority?  Do we want communities that make sure that every family has the material wellbeing, social support, and health care it needs to thrive?  This is the question we must ask of every citizen.