Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Experience TEAM Amazing

The University has been using the concept Experience Amazing! in the past couple of years.  The idea is to showcase the incredible experiences and opportunities that students have as part of the university.  This year, we had three teams in the Practice with Groups class, and one team called themselves Team Amazing.  I don't know if they meant it to have anything to do with the theme of experience amazing, but I thought of the connection immediately.  There are 7 students in this group, and I had the pleasure of teaching 5 of them in the fall as well.  I have great admiration for these students, and the effort they put into this group project, as well as their performance in the class as a whole.

Regular readers know about our ongoing work in Riverside, and it's that time of semester again when we are doing interventions with the children in this community.  Although it is a different group of students each semester, the children look forward to our returning, and within a few minutes after we start setting up, we have a roomful of excited boys and girls ready to experience whatever the students have planned.  Team Amazing began the intervention like all good social workers do: engaging the client system: establishing rapport and beginning the relationship.
Our primary goal has been to establish an atmosphere where children receive positive support and encouragement, encourage an appreciation for learning, and enhance the developmental tasks children need to master in each stage of life.  Team Amazing was amazing in the data collection and assessment steps of the planning stages.  They sought out empirical research articles, researched what other kinds of after-school programs are doing to promote self-esteem and positive self-images, and strengthen the ability of children to be successful in schools that may not--for a variety of reasons--always meet their needs. 
Tutoring and help with homework has always been a part of the project.  In Team Amazing's assessment, they recognized and discussed the importance of being aware of individual needs, and the fact that children develop at different stages even when they are in the same age group.  They planned ways to respond to those needs without singling out children, and seamlessly integrated the children into activities that encouraged interpersonal interaction with others as well as one-on-one time with the tutor.
One of the reasons we became involved in Riverside in the beginning was the awareness that both African American and white children in the public schools here start out performing at the same academic levels, but the longer the child is in school, the greater the academic performance gaps.  There are two primary explanations for this gap in the professional education literature; one is that it is "cultural" and that African American parents don't value education for their children, or encourage it, that the children themselves do not see it as relevant, and that there are familial reasons for this gap in performance.  The other explanation is the gap is due to structural issues; the schools, communities, and the dominant culture do not address or value the academic and social needs of African American children.  Our experience at Riverside has generally been what you see in the photograph above:  the children get very exciting about learning and participating in educational activities.  They want to be successful.  The parents in this community have regularly supported their children's attendance at our program, and often join us to participate in the activities.

There is ample evidence in Mississippi that the structural explanation is very real.  The Mississippi Education Working Group, a part of Southern Echo, has been very involved in addressing the structural concerns.  While I know that the structural explanation is very relevant and explains much--and I reject out of hand that the majority of African American parents and children are at fault in this academic gap, I also know that in the limited time we have in the community that we cannot address the structural issues.  So, we do what is also important: provide support and encouragement and try to enhance the coping capacity of individuals, families, and communities--one of the goals of social work.


Penny said...

Awesome time with the children. To see how confident they were in themselves, to witness them welcome us with open arms, and to see how excited they were about learning was an AMAZING experience. I am so glad I was able to be a part of what takes place at Riverside and it is something that I will cherish throughout my career.

Suzassippi said...

Thanks for stopping by, Penny! I can't wait to see what you all do in the future!