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 in Trenton: 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 chosen because they are considered at-risk youth between the ages of 12 and 15, and 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 are asked to prioritize referrals based on classroom disruption issues, victim/perpetrator of bullying behaviors, truancy and inconsistent attendance and/or academic failure. Class facilitators and mentors address specific needs individually to ensure each youth receives the support and guidance needed in order to be successful. The Kidsbridge 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 two school-based character education/life skills development training classes per week (at one and one half hours per session or three hours per week) and educationally-based field trips to reinforce the program’s goals. The program structure is geared to provide youth with skills to combat negative peer relationships, gang involvement, truancy, drug and alcohol dependence and other addictions through the utilization of consistent, supportive, compassionate, culturally-sensitive role models and structured, hands-on, educational activities that build character and self-esteem, increase critical thinking skills and promotes creativity through a non-judgmental approach. Without support, encouragement and guidance, an at-risk teen is more susceptible to the problems noted above. Statistics confirm that mentoring IS an effective preventer to juvenile delinquency.

For our Kidsbridge Life Skills Program, 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, facilitators and college student mentors work with program participants to make positive changes in their attitudes and life. Indeed, the program cultivates, empowers, nurtures and develops participating youth, providing them with the social and employability skills to become positive contributors to society.

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