The Assault On the Psyche Is Real

The Assault On the Psyche Is Real

As we move through the summer months, E4 Youth has been working on improving our evaluation methodology. As a small organization, it can be difficult to develop a robust process for measurement. We’ve struggled at times with this issue. So, last summer we got some support from our friends at the Webber Family Foundation to help us develop and execute an evaluation plan.

One of the tools we use is a validated survey by the Search Institute that measures the overall social emotional health of our students. The Developmental Assets Profile survey provides a snapshot of EVERYTHING our students are experiencing, not only with E4 Youth, but with their family members, peers, teachers and a wide range of other organizations there to serve them. The premise behind this approach is that if students feel good about things such as their families, community support, positive self-identity and constructive uses of their time, they are more likely to grow up and become healthy, caring and responsible adults.

Figure 1: The percentage of students feeling vulnerable or challenged at the schools we serve has grown from 51% to 81% over the past 2 years.

The first time we measured these developmental assets was in the Spring of 2017 and the results were interesting. 46% (Adequate 42%, Thriving 4%) of the students we surveyed reported feeling positive about their developmental assets while 54% (46% Vulnerable, 8% Challenged) did not feel positive about these things.

So, nearly half of our students felt like their developmental assets i.e. feeling safe and supported were adequate or better. Only 8% of them felt challenged in these areas. That’s not great but not dire either.

Two years later, we see an alarming trend. Only 19% ( 14% Adequate, 4% Thriving) reported feeling positive about their developmental assets while a staggering 81% (51% Vulnerable, 28% Challenged) felt negatively. The percentage of students that felt “challenged”, the lowest rating in the survey, has tripled over the past two years.

Now, this is not an apples to apples comparison. The surveys only represent a sample of the participants from both years. Many students that completed the 2017 survey, have graduated and our enrollment has doubled as we’ve moved into new schools. Nevertheless, it’s troubling.

From the Texas Tribune: A mural of President Donald Trump in the Casa Padre immigrant shelter in Brownsville. The center is located in a store that was previously a Walmart. Photo: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Too many of our students are experiencing anxiety and trauma

Of course, there are many issues that impact our students’ perceptions about their futures. Their relationships with family members, teachers, peers, community organizations, the media and criminal justice system all have rippling effects on their psyches. When we think about what has changed the most for our students over the past two years, we can’t ignore the socioeconomic and political climate.

They are among the first generation to expect less prosperity than their parents. As people of color, they are met with a barrage of negative messages about who they are and what’s possible for them to achieve. They are over-disciplined in our schools and over-policed in our communities. Their very right to exist is questioned on a daily basis.

If we’re going to turn the tide, we’ve got to address the damage being done with intention. Our students need opportunities to process all the trauma that is being inflicted upon them and build resiliency. They have to be able to find a voice, an anchor in the sea of negativity that swirls around them, and move forward.

So, how does E4 Youth help these students?

Get Creative Enrichment Clubs are an entry point into our ecosystem of peers, near peers and professional mentors throughout Austin’s creative and technology sectors. Initially, they may only interact with us 1–2 hours a week. We’ve developed Employability Curriculum, which is led by our trained Young Creative Leaders, to take students through an asset mapping process that helps them answer key questions like “What do I like to do? What am I good at? How can I become great at what I love? Why do I flourish in some situations and not in others? How do my actions impact others?”

Through these theater based team building, critical thinking and media literacy activities we help create safe spaces where students can build relationships and find their voice.

Over the past decade we’ve learned that the students who successfully complete these activities have higher quality portfolios and overall achievement. These are the students that earn access to South By Southwest, cameras, laptops and recording gear. More than 100 of then have been employed as part of our Shadow the Pros summer internship program working on projects for clients like Lyft and Whataburger.

Alumni from these high school programs are returning to their alma maters as Young Creative Leaders themselves. They are the Digital Docents that we are hiring to collect and curate oral histories throughout East Austin. They are also the ones now leaving us for full time employment with companies like Go Daddy, Tableau and Dell.

Our goal is to bring that process to scale so that it can be replacated in any city in the world.

The assault on the psyche is real and we’ve got find a way to inoculate youth of color so that they can truly thrive.

For more information, visit us online at www.e4youth.org. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.

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