Phase II: Our 5-Year project
Progress To Date
After our initial 3-Year project, we received five more years of funding to both fund BxTHUNDER and continue the efforts of A.L.O.T. in reducing mental health and other health disparities among Bronx Black and Latino youth.
During this time, A.L.O.T. grew in many ways. We graduated many teens and several adults into alumni status, and they continue to remain in contact and involved in our project in various ways. Each year, A.L.O.T.’s membership has ranged from 14-20 teens and 3-6 adults (including a few mental health specialists/professionals). A.L.O.T. also has a team of 3 staff members who co-facilitate the meetings and handle other project logistics. In addition to the members and staff we have added to our team, two original staff members and one adult member have continued on this project throughout its duration.
BxTHUNDER (“Bronx Thunder”)
BxTHUNDER is a positive mental health and youth development intervention we developed in the first phase of our project. It was piloted at J.V.L. Wildcat Academy Charter School from Fall 2008 through Winter 2009. BxTHUNDER is a 14-week program that includes a skills training component and an internship component. Teens spend 8 weeks learning and practicing life and job skills in communication, problem-solving, conflict resolution, time management, and goal setting. They also learn about mental health issues, discuss how different stressors impact their lives, and learn skills in how to cope with these stressors in order to develop into healthy and successful adults. The internship component, which includes peer-led workshops, was originally 6 weeks in length and has since been adapted to 4 weeks in length to fit the needs of the community. The internship begins with two weeks of planning and preparation for the workshops, including training in peer education, professionalism, and ethical dilemmas. The teens come up with several different stressors that affect them in life and create 4 workshops, based on each of these topics, including a role play with a discussion following. Workshops are geared towards a variety of audiences including other teens, community members, school or agency staff, parents, and the community-at-large. The BxTHUNDER intervention also offers youth with behavioral or emotional challenges the opportunity to receive additional help and services through the program, separate from the group meetings.
To date, BxTHUNDER has been implemented in J.V.L. Wildcat Academy, several Mosholu Montefiore Community Center sites, and DeWitt Clinton High School.
With BxTHUNDER already being implemented in the Bronx Community, A.L.O.T. decided to continue the work of the founding group to address health disparities in mental health among Bronx Black African American and Latino adolescents. In the 4th project year (2008-2009), A.L.O.T. identified specific areas of mental health that needed to be addressed with the long term goal of designing another intervention that would address our topic of choice. We spent Fall of 2008 through Spring of 2009 brainstorming issues and came up with a list of 9 topics that included: Bereavement, Body Image, Coping, Family Issues, Neighborhood/Community Issues, Peer Pressure, Sexual Relationship Issues, School Pressures and Violence/Abuse. Many discussions were held surrounding these topics. After much discussion and debate, the group eliminated 7 of the topics and spent several months discussing and debating between Coping and Family Issues as the two mental health priority areas that they would like to address as a team.
During our June 2009 BYAP Coalition Meeting, A.L.O.T. presented each of these topic areas to the BYAP Coalition and together, A.L.O.T. and the Coalition engaged in an in-depth panel discussion about each of these topics. Some of the Coalition felt strongly for coping, others for family issues, while many felt the topics could be merged in some way. The week after the Coalition Meeting, A.L.O.T. spent time debriefing and deliberating over the topics and ultimately decided that they could easily choose either or both, but needed to choose one of the topics to focus on moving forward. A.L.O.T. chose COPING as the topic they pursued next.
With coping as their topic of choice to address, A.L.O.T. spent Fall 2009 learning about prevention and intervention, and different coping interventions that are being implemented. Part of the task of both A.L.O.T. and the BYAP Coalition was then to think about implementing a larger, structural-level, Mental Health and Coping Initiative—something that could expand throughout the Bronx.
In continuing this initiative, over the past few years, A.L.O.T. has chosen to examine more specifically, the structural level impact of different “systems” or institutions on the mental health of Bronx teens. After generating a list of several systems, and holding weekly meetings and discussions, we came to a consensus that we wanted to focus more closely on the EDUCATION SYSTEM. The reason we chose the education system is because we feel it impacts us the most as Bronx teens: We have first-hand knowledge of it since we live through it day-to-day.
Once choosing the education system, A.L.O.T. noticed several areas of the education system that strongly impacted Bronx teens, and identified four specific areas or topics of concern: Teachers teaching to the test (Regents/ state exams); teachers not teaching in their passion, concentration or specialty; lack of general life skills provided/taught; and lack of, limited, and outdated resources. In May 2011, with the guidance of our Coalition, A.L.O.T. decided that having four topics would still be too broad of a focus. A.L.O.T. spent Fall 2011 through Spring 2012 more closely evaluating each of the topic areas and ultimately chose to narrow the topics down to two areas: Teachers not teaching in their passion/specialty, and lack of (or need for) providing general life skills in their schools.
In May 2012, A.L.O.T. hosted a community event to raise awareness around these two topics and discuss how these areas of concern impact their mental health as Bronx Black and Latino teens.