Title

SPARK It Up: Reigniting Hope in High-Risk Adolescents

Location

Harborside Center East and West

Strand #1

Social & Emotional Skills

Strand #2

Family & Community

Relevance

This presentation will focus on two of the five conference strands: “Heart” and “Home”. The SPARK Mentoring Program was initially created because of the increased recidivism rates in juvenile justice courts. Many of the adolescents who appeared before the judge were described as having “dead eyes”. The mentoring program was created to help light a spark within our youth, by not seeking to change their actual behaviors, but by providing a safe, fun, nurturing community for them at the University of West Georgia. SPARK is a community-based developmental program whose priority is to mentor youth by fostering an environment of interconnectedness with aspiring educators at University of West Georgia (UWG). Every 10-week session SPARK Youth are matched with a UWG undergraduate student and they participate in a mentoring and community relationship that empowers them to narrate their life stories within our community, and has aided in the personal development of each mentor and adolescent that has been a part of the program.

Brief Program Description

This interactive presentation is targeted for educators and social service professionals who work with at-risk teens in any capacity. This workshop will inspire and challenge participants to see beyond adolescents’ behaviors and learn the practical and engaging interventions, and humanistic philosophies that the community-based mentoring SPARK Program utilizes to connect their college students and juvenile justice youth.

Summary

Presenters will provide insight into how the SPARK Mentoring program has utilized the “I and Thou” philosophy coupled with undergraduate students from the University of West Georgia, community partners, and businesses to impact the lives of the Carrollton adolescents, who are currently on probation. Presenters will focus on their philosophy of connecting with adolescents by “seeing them as sacred,” to help create a safe and nurturing community where adolescents learn to narrate their life stories while experiencing the mentoring relationship. While teachers, administrators, and judges are running out of good options to incentivize at-risk youth to change their behaviors, the SPARK Program sees the defiant youth as sacred or spirit. This strength-based approach to working with adolescents allows a whole array of opportunities to build a community and for participants to discover new ways of relating to each other. The desire to manage, mold and manipulate an individual falls away to a more compassionate and communal way of being and caring for each other. This workshop will share the process of how the SPARK Program empowers future educators/social service professionals on how to let go of personal biases, countertransference issues, and create a safe, nurturing environment that fosters a community where mentor and youth both exchange and learn from one another. The workshop will invite participants to partake of the SPARK process throughout the workshop to experience the dynamics of the program. Participants will be exposed to program rationale and the emergent need for a paradigm-shift in relating to at-risk youth. Presenters will provide participants with case studies that reveal the purpose and rationale for their alternative methods and interventions in connecting with SPARK youth.

Evidence

Since 2009, the focus of the SPARK Program has been to promote the cultivation of positive relationships between undergraduate college students and the adolescents in a supportive, non-threatening and non-judgmental manner. The methodology of this program is consistent with Bowlby and Ainsworth’s theory of attachment. According to attachment theory, a person’s ability to develop healthy and positive relationships with others is heavily influenced by experiences with his or her parents and other caregivers when very young. Therefore, children who have experienced neglect, abuse, or otherwise unstable relationships may as adolescents, have more difficulty forming healthy relationships with teachers or other adults in their lives and have less positive self-images (Fisher, Gunnar, Dozier, Bruce, & Pears, 2006). Research suggests that if adolescents with troubled backgrounds are able to formulate a positive, accepting relationship with another person, they may then be able to generalize this experience to the formation of other positive, healthy relationships and also improve their self-image (Barrera & Bonds, 2005; Zimmerman, Bingenheimer, & Behrendt, 2005). However, the formation of such a relationship can be especially hard for an adolescent with largely negative experiences. Karcher and Hansen (2013) propose the use of Rogers Client-Centered Approach as they describe in their discussion of mentor/mentee activities. Rogers (1957) approach consists of three essential elements and includes the adult’s genuineness, empathy and unconditional positive regard. In other words, the adult must unconditionally accept the adolescent, not condoning inappropriate behavior, but focusing on the inherent goodness of the adolescent without regard to whatever behavior might be displayed (Karcher & Hansen, 2013).

Format

Poster Presentation

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Thomas Peterson has served for the past 24 years as a professor of Social, Cultural and Philosophical Foundations of Education at the University of West Georgia. He teaches teacher education courses including philosophy, critical theory, and history. His research interests include teachers’ inner-life, teacher burnout/renewal, growing a spiritual classroom, and igniting a SPARK in high-risk adolescence. Son of a preacher, Tom lived his formative years in South East Asia. Prior to his appointment at UWG, he was an elementary/middle school principal in NC, art teacher in California and Maryland, World Masters gold medal winner in badminton, flight instructor, and pilot missionary to Africa.

Since 1998, Michael Frazier has worked with troubled children, adolescents, and families in and out of various treatment communities and educational environments helping them to triumph over life’s adversities. As a therapist, Michael embraces the totality of therapeia, the Greek word for therapy, which means ‘doing the work of the whole.’ Michael continues to draw upon his years of experience in helping individuals and families in multiple therapeutic settings, conducts professional workshops, and through his non-profit organization, The 4LIFE Foundation. He currently is earning his doctorate in psychology at the University of West Georgia. His research interests include examining the lived experience of high-risk youth and providing them the opportunity to narrate their life stories in a community where people intentionally listen to them, and examining the potential way(s) that it may affect their perspective upon their lives. Michael has also contributed to truTV’s nationally syndicated television show, In Session, is the author of the children’s book, TWIN POWERS, and is a contributing blogger for Huffington Post.

Keyword Descriptors

Adolescents, at-risk youth, mentoring, community-based program, community

Presentation Year

2015

Start Date

3-3-2015 4:00 PM

End Date

3-3-2015 5:30 PM

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Mar 3rd, 4:00 PM Mar 3rd, 5:30 PM

SPARK It Up: Reigniting Hope in High-Risk Adolescents

Harborside Center East and West

This interactive presentation is targeted for educators and social service professionals who work with at-risk teens in any capacity. This workshop will inspire and challenge participants to see beyond adolescents’ behaviors and learn the practical and engaging interventions, and humanistic philosophies that the community-based mentoring SPARK Program utilizes to connect their college students and juvenile justice youth.