Middle schoolers mingle with community judges after their successful presentations

Since 2003, the main goal of the dynamic and powerful Kidsbridge Middle School Life Skills Program for At-Risk Youth: ASCEND is to make a positive difference in the lives of at-risk, inner-city youth from Trenton by providing them with skills and strategies to lead socially productive lives. While social, physical, cultural, financial and emotional barriers may be daunting and restrictive, they don’t have to define an individual. Kidsbridge believes that with appropriate support and services, these underserved teens can be empowered to make constructive decisions for themselves – as well as making good choices in their interactions with other students and educators at school, and with their families and friends at home.

Middle schoolers practice their presentation and leadership skills.

Participants are often chosen because they have attitude and behavioral problems. Between the ages of 12 and 15, they are referred by school administrators and guidance personnel. Educators are encouraged to identify kids who have a history of truant and/or poor school performance that may benefit from the unique learning experience of varied curricula. School officials prioritize referrals based on classroom disruption issues, victim/perpetrator of bullying behaviors, and/or academic failure. Program facilitators and mentors address specific needs to ensure that each youth receives general guidance and as much individual support in order to be successful. This Life Skills Program maintains a “no reject, no eject” policy.

ASCEND combines mentoring services with a high quality, evidence-based, life skills and character education curricula. The program incorporates one school-based character education/life skills development training class per week (at one hour per session), and includes educationally-based field trips to reinforce the program’s goals. Consistent, supportive, compassionate, culturally-sensitive role models provide strategies to address the negative influences in the vulnerable youths’ lives; structured, hands-on, educational activities that build character and self-esteem, increase critical thinking skills, and promotes creativity through a non-judgmental approach is key to the program structure. Without the support, encouragement and guidance that this program offers, an at-risk teen is more susceptible to peer pressure and the challenging situations noted above. Research supports that mentoring IS an effective preventer of juvenile delinquency.

For our Life Skills Program for Middle School, ASCEND was chosen because ascending speaks to the conquest of a summit, to rise and to reach a higher position. This is what our program does. It helps teens rise above their current circumstances, to ascend to heights that represent something greater than where they started. Ascend connotes aspiration, and is action-oriented, positive and representative of accomplishment. It is what Kidsbridge hopes all participants in the ASCEND program will do.

ASCEND also is an acronym for: Activities Structured (to) Cultivate, Empower, Nurture (and) Develop (our youth). Using targeted exercises focusing on life skills described above, facilitators and college undergraduate mentors work with these at-risk youth to make positive changes in their attitudes and life.

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