Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Improving the Pro-Social Skills of Transitioning Urban Youth: A Summer Camp Approach

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Improving the Pro-Social Skills of Transitioning Urban Youth: A Summer Camp Approach

Article excerpt

Highly publicized violence in our nation's schools and awareness of the established link between academic achievement and positive youth development has increased pressure on the educational community to provide character education in public schools (Borman & Overman, 2002; Character Education and Civic Engagement Technical Assistance Center, 2008; Davidson, 2005; Park, 2004). Despite these demands, the resources, time, and training devoted to effective character education are inconsistent (Davidson, 2005). In one national study, more than 97% of respondents believed schools had some responsibility for character education and should teach core values; however, only 25% of the respondents indicated that character education is addressed in their course offerings (Jones, Ryan, & Bohlin, 1999). Although educators acknowledge the value of character education, there may be limited emphasis on integrating character development initiatives in curriculum from prekindergarten through twelfth grade. Instead, initiatives tend to be remedial or reactionary.

School systems often implement character education initiatives in reaction to a violent event. Following the school shootings that occurred in the 1990s, many school systems started to implement character education and violence prevention programs. Unfortunately, because the efforts were reactive, little thought was given to sustainability efforts, and often the programs were phased out with transitions in school administration and staff. In an effort to address this problem and pave the way for more proactive and sustainable efforts, legislation was passed that provided funding for the U.S. Department of Education "Partnerships in Character Education" projects. The primary goal of this effort was to develop an effective process to systematically implement character education initiatives within our diverse school systems. Through this funding, a summer camp designed to improve pro-social skills and decrease susceptibility to deviant behavior among rising middle grades students was implemented in an urban school system. The purpose of the pilot study described in this article was to assess change in student attitudes consistent with pro-social behavior and strong character development following attendance at the camp.


Transition to middle grades in urban settings

Many changes accompany the transition from elementary to middle grades schools. Typically, during elementary school, students have one or two teachers and classrooms. However, in middle grades schools, students shift from class to class and teacher to teacher throughout the day. They often experience larger classes and less individual assistance from teachers (Akos & Galassi, 2004). Demands and expectations increase, play time decreases, and responsibility and accountability become essential skills for success. The personal transformation that a middle grades student experiences during this period can be described as extensive and disruptive (Akos & Galassi, 2004). This pivotal period may be associated with a decline in students' self-esteem and sense of connectedness and an increase in negative perceptions of their school climate. In addition, many students may experience a loss of their identity and display problem behavior as they attempt to gain attention from their teachers and peers (Anderman, Maehr, & Midgley, 1999; Cillessen & Mayeux, 2007).

The transition to the middle grades is a period when environmental and physiological changes may cause students to feel vulnerable and distressed. The anxiety young adolescents experience during this period may be intensified for those in urban districts, as they are often faced with the added stress of focusing on personal safety and survival in their communities (Shann, 2001). Students who attend schools in urban districts are regularly exposed to a greater amount of violence in both their schools and their communities (Gottfredson, 1997). …

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