Kidsbridge provides weekly life skills programs for 20-25 at-risk students at elementary schools in Trenton, NJ. Currently the program is running at Cadwalader Elementary School because of private funding. It is a very intensive program, focusing on the needs of the individual student. Because children imitate each other’s behavior from a young age, the cycle of peer pressure (for negative behavior) must be broken by introducing positive role models. Many of these troubled youth have no such role model in their lives outside the classroom, and this program provides them. The program is vigorously supported by the teachers, school counselors, principal and parents/guardians of that school, and there is a waiting list of kids wanting to participate in the program.
In small groups, the goal is to improve the social and emotional development of participants by teaching at-risk children peacemaking life skills including cooperation, conflict resolution, victim empowerment and anti-bullying while building their self-esteem and self-confidence. The youth chosen for this program have been identified as class disruptors — in terms of bullying, conflicts, behavioral issues and suspensions. Also included are victims — kids who have been or are being bullied by others, often possessing low self-esteem and lacking in self-confidence.
Research says that to learn pro-social skills effectively, empathy must first be generated. Upon a foundation of empathy and improved self-esteem, kids can learn: the pain a bully causes; how to advocate and protect oneself as a victim; how to be an UPstander (an UPstander is someone who “stands up and speaks out” when they see injustice taking place), how to be a changemaker (creating a domino effect where others will follow); and how to make a difference. This is the approach the Kidsbridge Life Skills Program for Elementary Schools takes.
A unique strength of this program is that in addition to a fabulous program facilitator, the student-to-adult ratio is 2:1, meaning that for every two children, we have a college student from The College of New Jersey acting as their mentor. The 10-12 college students are education majors who have made a weekly commitment to act as a mentor for the entire semester. Relationships develop and bonds form, and the children rely on, trust and look forward to exchanging content with their mentors.
Through exercises and presentations, Kidsbridge drives home the importance of: respect for self and respect for others; discipline and conflict resolution; getting good grades, finishing high school and aspiration to college/technical school. Pre- and post-survey assessment of program by TCNJ psychology students takes place, reinforcing the positive, individual impact the program has on these at-risk kids – ultimately, to help them to see that there IS hope and they can make positive choices in life.
“I feel this is a very enlighting program. Teaching kids racism and negative expression (that it should not be tolerated) is very vital. They need this type of program because without talking about it they will never understand what is negative about name calling and being stereotypical. Keep this program up it is very helpful to the youth from my observance.” —Reflection from a parent