Of course, you’ve heard the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results. This year, USD 259 decided to take a step towards sanity, when it comes to dealing with one problem within the district where the stakes are exceptionally high.
On the surface, the problem is reducing the disproportionate numbers of suspensions of Black males within the district. However, what’s really at stake is putting a stopper in the school to prison pipeline, so often experienced by these young men.
“We can almost tell it to the zip code, if you don’t graduate high school, where you’re likely to end up,” said William Polite, director of equity diversity and accountability for USD 259.
This school year, Polite is heading up a one-year pilot program designed at getting some of the district’s most troubled Black males off the pipeline to prison.
The program, called Future Ready Advocate Mentoring (FRAM), has seven full-time male mentors hired to help reduce Black male suspensions in the district. Nationally, as well as in USD 259, Black males are three- to four times more likely to be suspended from school.
FRAM is a totally new approach to addressing this problem, with one mentor assigned to each of the district’s high schools. The mentors will work with assigned Black-male students one-on-one and/or in small group sessions.
“Some of them will need a little more intense help,” said Polite, “that’s the one-on-ones.”
Advocate versus Mentor
FRAM mentors will work with students in the school building on academics and behavior, but more than academics, the mentors will help their assigned students will all aspects of their lives. Early on, they’ll go to the student’s home and meet their family as a way to gain family buy-in for the program, but also to help the mentors gain a better understanding of the student’s environment outside of school and their family support system.
Working through a social and emotional lens, the mentors will help the young men build self awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship and responsible decision-making skills.
“The biggest thing is building a strong relationship with these kids,” said Polite, “and truly being a go-to person for that young man.”
Through their relationship building, mentors will work to find out what interests the student, what does he like, and what keeps him interested in going to school and then try to get them involved with programs that match their interest.
“USD 259 has a lot of great programs and opportunities but a lot of times these kids are not connecting with those opportunities, which are sometimes right in their school that they might not have taken advantage of,” said Polite.
Similarly, mentors will help connect the student’s interests to programs and opportunities outside school. Instead of the young men adopting negative stereotypes that may be in front of them, the mentors will work to expose them to possibilities in life they may not be aware of.
The mentors will also help students set goals for school and life, and help them develop a plan to achieve them, Instead of looking at the plans every nine weeks, they’ll look at progress on a weekly basis.
The mentors will question, “Are the things you’re doing this week, lining up with what your goals are? That’s where mentoring comes in,” said Polite, “making sure the things you’re doing line up with your goals.