Kidsbridge provides weekly life skills programs for 28 at-risk students at elementary schools in Trenton, NJ. Private funding supports this small group education which focuses on life skills. 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 at-risk youth have no such role model in their lives outside the classroom, and this program provides it to 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 — positive skills that will remain with them as they move on to middle school and beyond. By teaching underserved children peacemaking life skills including cooperation, conflict resolution, victim empowerment and anti-bullying while building their self-esteem and self-confidence.
There are three “groups” of youth chosen for this program; those that have been identified as: 1) Class disruptors (students who are associated with bullying, conflicts, behavioral issues and suspensions); 2) Targets or victims (kids who have been or are being bullied by others; they often possess low self-esteem and lack in self-confidence), and 3) Model students (Youth who can model pro-social behaviors for these other two groups).
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 3:1, meaning that for every three children, we have a college student from TCNJ or The College of New Jersey acting as their mentor. The college undergraduates are often 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.
“This is a very enlightening program. Teaching kids that racism and negative expression should not be tolerated is very vital and important at this time. Kids need this type of program because without talking about it, they won’t understand what is negative about name calling and basing your opinion on stereotype. Keep up this program up, as it teaches good lessons to youth.” —Reflection from a parent