“These kids are reachable”: Supporting Students and Schools through Community Advocacy


Individual Presentation


Amy L. OnofreFollow

First Presenter's Institution

Texas Tech University

First Presenter’s Email Address


First Presenter's Brief Biography

Amy Onofre, Med, LPC, serves as the Director for the Community Advocacy Project for Students (CAPS) in the Center for Adolescent resiliency. She graduated from Texas Tech University in 2014 with her master’s degree in Community Counseling and is currently working towards her doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision. She has ten years of experience working with youth, both individually and in the group setting. Amy’s position as the Director for CAPS allows her the opportunity to use her experience, education, and interests to pursue her passion of working with youth to develop the necessary skills for wellness and success.

Second Presenter's Institution

Ashley Newman

Second Presenter’s Email Address


Second Presenter's Brief Biography

Ashley Newman, MS, LMFT is the Assistant Director for The Community Advocacy Project for Students in the Center for Adolescent Resiliency. She graduated with her master’s degree from Texas Tech University’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program in 2017 and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has worked clinically within the juvenile justice population by providing individual, group, and family therapy to juveniles in residential treatment and home therapy to children and their families placed on probation. She is now working collaboratively to assist adolescents who are sent to alternative education campuses to make positive transitions back to their primary school with the skills and supports needed to thrive.


Session Three Breakouts (Sloane)

Strand #1

Health: Mental & Physical Health

Strand #2

Home: Family & Community Engagement


Heart: Social & Emotional Skills

Our program works with students and their schools by utilizing community advocates from diverse backgrounds and experiences who also have the desire to support youth in making positive changes in their lives. Through their advocate roles, trained community volunteers guide students, individually and in group settings, through critical life skills lessons to assist them in more effectively navigating their school, home, and social environments. In turn, these life skills lessons foster improved decision-making, school engagement, and overall well-being.

The program’s primary focus is supporting students experiencing mandatory alternative education placements. Students often struggle in transitioning from an alternative education setting back to their mainstream middle or high school campus. Challenges to a successful transition include falling behind academically, returning to negative influences from peer groups, and the inability to adjust to a less structured environment. These challenges often set the student on a course toward a revolving door between the alternative educational setting and their assigned campus. Both the student and school benefit from a smooth transition back into the traditional classroom setting.

Utilizing an original comprehensive wellness curriculum in weekly one-on-one meetings, the advocate scaffolds and enhances students’ social and emotional skills through experiential activities that explore student needs and goals. Topics include the impact of student’s interpersonal relationships on their well-being, the emotions which lie beneath behavioral struggles, and any additional barriers to success that present within and/or outside of the school setting. Students are guided by their advocate through these lessons in engaging, interactive ways. These activities not only incorporate important life skills, but also have an element of fun which builds rapport and supports the absorption and application of the lessons.

As the advocate consistently shows up for the student, connection strengthens, trust builds, and a relationship forms. In our experience, as a student begins to trust the advocate, they are more likely to engage with lesson content and internalize the intended messages, which can act as a critical agent for change and holistic student success. The advocate relationship empowers students through their own internal growth and external supports to uncover the power that exists within their voices when able to advocate for themselves.

Additionally, group sessions designed to address student needs are offered to provide students with the safe space to feel heard and to develop a sense of comradery and connectedness with fellow students facing shared struggles. The community volunteers and school personnel who collaborate to facilitate these groups also find support through the experience. Group topics include grief, emotional regulation, self-confidence, etc. Group sessions provide students with the comfort of knowing they are not on their own in their struggles and do not have to face them alone.

Home: Developing and enhancing family and community support for all children and youth.

As suggested by Gibson and Barr (2015), “relationships and connections with others are what keep students in school when they are struggling in or out of school” (p. 24). Thus, our advocacy program supports the development and enhancement of community connection for youth facing systemic disadvantages. This is accomplished through its pairing of students with trained adult figures from the community, which assists in building the relationships and connectedness imperative for student success. The student-advocate partnership enables the student to engage in a trusted adult relationship while gleaning skills they may utilize to support their current and future well-being.

Advocate trainings conducted by program staff provide the opportunity to educate community members regarding their own positionalities and the contextual factors youth face, which may differ from their own lived experiences. The opportunity for increased self-awareness and a broader cultural awareness facilitates the space for individual growth and larger systemic impact. We seek to encourage current and future generations of working professionals to invest back into the youth of their communities and utilize their knowledge in order to better prioritize and serve this underserved population.

This program is fortunate to have established community partners who share our vision, empathize with our “call” to help, and desire to actively contribute to our mission. This collaborative support provides additional resources to meet student needs which fall outside our scope of services. Particularly, our partnership with a local health care system provides us with the resources to offer our students and their families mental health counseling services free of charge. Our program’s comprehensive community approach to working with students and schools, nourishes a culture of holistic wellness for individuals and the broader systems which support them.

Brief Program Description

Research and our lived experiences exemplify the positive impact a caring adult relationship can provide for youth. However, the turbulence inherent within adolescence and contextual factors often create barriers to building the trust necessary for relationship development. This presentation will outline the role of advocacy in developing and maintaining connectedness at an individual, school, and community level to support youth during trying times of transition.


This presentation will overview three foundational building blocks of advocacy in establishing connection to support students within the school setting. The presenters draw from their experience of delivering a program that connects and directs community resources to students during challenging times of transition. At the core of program advocacy efforts is connectedness.

Building Block 1: This session will present advocacy as a framework to build trust and establish a caring adult relationship with students. At an individual level, advocacy provides a safe space to serve as a key caring adult to the student, advocate for student needs, and supports further student growth through life skills learning. Becoming this trusted adult presence in a student’s life requires intention and purpose, which may include examination of personal biases and the understanding of contextual factors in relation to both the advocate’s and the student’s worlds.

Building Block 2: Session activities will overview applicable strategies to facilitate a trusted relationship within the school setting. To effectively advocate for students, school collaboration is necessary. Entering a pre-existing system as an outside presence can present unique challenges, while also opening doors to increased opportunities to connect to students and the community. Navigating this process requires honoring school system efforts, working within the appropriate boundaries to support the establishment of connectedness and trust, and consistent collaboration. For the student, this connection may then contribute to an increased sense of a caring school environment and feeling valued by their community.

Building Block 3: This presentation will offer participants collaborative measures designed to support the bridging and healing of relationships across systems. Connecting community to students and schools fosters opportunity for youth and adults to collectively work together to identify solutions, support student outcomes, and encourage systemic change. This comprehensive support is further achieved by establishing community partnerships which provide additional resources to meet student needs which fall outside the scope of our services. When we join to invest in our youth, the systems which support our youth, and the future of our community, the possibilities for connection, healing, and growth are endless.


Existing literature and evidence from qualitative interviews with our program’s stakeholders (school counselors, school administrators, and advocates) frame our philosophy and evidence of impact when utilizing an advocacy program to support connectedness and the well-being of youth faced with both systemic and personal challenges in a school setting.

Positive youth development outlines supportive relationships as critical for adolescent development, placing emphasis on the impact of positive caring adults (Sieving et al., 2017; Larson, 2006). The student and advocate relationship nurtured through our program provides a supportive environment to have a trusted relationship with an adult figure. Where students have reported a lack of trust in school personnel, they still desire supportive relationships within the school setting (Slaten et al., 2015). Therefore, our practice of bringing the outside community into the school system may offer unique benefits. One counselor echoed this, stating, “I think just having her presence there that wasn’t a school person really just helped him to calm down and just really helped him.” Stakeholders spoke to this relationship as a monumental opportunity for students to learn critical life skill lessons in a safe space free from judgement.

We all know [that] for kids to be successful, for any of us to be successful, it's about the relationship. So CAPS to me was very much about ... the word advocacy itself, it's about support and relationship and for the very kids who don't have enough of that in their life. - School Administrator

Our lived experiences indicate that establishing a trusted relationship with the school strengthens our ability to advocate for our students and be a resource to the school. When genuine collaboration occurs, more may be done for the youth we serve. One school administrator spoke to this possible impact when reflecting on a student involved in the program:

We had a kid at the beginning of this year that was a three or four referral kid a day, I mean a week kid. ISS. We’re looking at sending him to the discipline campus. I mean, he is not functioning within the school, the normal systems of the school. And as he got to know his advocate, what we saw was…we had a greater awareness [of his living situation], which is not necessarily the plan, but we had a greater awareness. And we were able to work with the child better…I think the relationship between the student and the advocate, and the advice that was being offered, and the encouragement that was being offered, the child in end of spring, I haven't looked, but I mean, went to hardly any referrals, hardly any issues. Still kind of hard to teach. But I mean, became a child that we would interact with positively as opposed to a child that we only interacted with negatively. And that makes a huge difference.

This collaboration opened the door for the school and advocate to work together to better understand the student’s situation and support him. Trust was imperative. One stakeholder explained his trust in the program:

The level of trust, I think that we have with them is significant. They have always delivered on what they've said they were going to do. There has never been a deal where they come in and say, "Hey, we're going to do this," and then it doesn't happen. And that's huge. Because as a public school, we get people try to sell us a bill of goods all the time, and then they don't deliver. So the fact that they always deliver and frankly, sometimes there are over delivers, is just remarkable and amazing.

Thus, the establishment of connectedness and trust at a school level provides opportunities for a strengthened school climate, additional resources, and support to students. Communities can provide schools with resources to fill gaps and complement their values and goals set for the students they serve (Henry et al., 2021). For our program, “it's another way of saying we're going to have more support for kids. So I don't see [the program] is taking the place of a school counselor. It supplements what… school counselors do” (School Administrator). By serving as a trusted resource, contributing to the ever-evolving foundation of the greater systemic change, this community integration has been reported to have strengthened connections inside and outside of the school setting for students. This same school administrator spoke to the value of this integration well:

It's something that couldn't happen, in my opinion, without an outside group coming in… instead of shutting the door to the community is instead welcoming the community in. That partnership with the university is obviously very powerful and I felt, it's only going to spread, like I said, the domino effect.

Through collaboration and intervention at multiple levels, positive outcomes in the school setting and student lives are made possible. For the student, success in various domains reinforces the value of the life skills learned and connections established. For the program, it communicates that we are addressing the whole child and speaks to the impact possible through connection.


Henry, L., Reinke, W. M., Herman, K. C., Thompson, A. M., & Lewis, C. G. (2020).

Motivational Interviewing With At-Risk Students (MARS) Mentoring: Addressing the Unique Mental Health Needs of Students in Alternative School Placements. School Psychology Review, 50(1), 62–74. https://doi.org/10.1080/2372966X.2020.1827679

Sieving, R., McRee, A., McMorris, B., Shlafer, R., Gower, A., Kapa, H., Beckman, K., Doty, J., Plowman, S. & Resnick, M. (2017). Youth–Adult Connectedness: A Key Protective Factor for Adolescent Health. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 52(3), S275-S278.

Slaten, C.D., Elison, Z. M., Hughes, H., Yough, M., & Shemwell, D. (2015). Hearing the Voices of Youth at Risk for Academic Failure: What Professional School Counselors Need to Know. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, 54(3), 203-220.

Larson, R. (2006). Positive youth development, willful adolescents, and mentoring. Journal of Community Psychology, 34(6), 677-689.

Learning Objective 1

Participants will be able to conceptualize advocacy as a framework to build trust and establish a caring adult relationship with students.

Learning Objective 2

Participants will be able to recognize strategies to facilitate a trusted relationship within the school setting.

Learning Objective 3

Participants will be able to identify collaborative measures designed to bridge and mend the relationship between student, school, and community.

Keyword Descriptors

advocacy, adolescence, mentorship, alternative education

Presentation Year


Start Date

3-6-2023 2:45 PM

End Date

3-6-2023 4:00 PM

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Mar 6th, 2:45 PM Mar 6th, 4:00 PM

“These kids are reachable”: Supporting Students and Schools through Community Advocacy

Session Three Breakouts (Sloane)

Research and our lived experiences exemplify the positive impact a caring adult relationship can provide for youth. However, the turbulence inherent within adolescence and contextual factors often create barriers to building the trust necessary for relationship development. This presentation will outline the role of advocacy in developing and maintaining connectedness at an individual, school, and community level to support youth during trying times of transition.