Why one Chicago public school tries to hold on to youth counseling programs

By Mackenzie Reagor, a Hancock College Prep Student

Youth Guidance programs like Becoming a Man (B.A.M), and Working on Womanhood (W.O.W) are set to leave Hancock College Prep next school year if participation in the program does not increase.

Youth Guidance programs began in 1999 in response to a trend of violence in high schools. According to Politico.com, in an article titled “Group Therapy is Saving Lives in Chicago,” published on September 21, 2017, Youth Guidance programs have become part of a national trend to adopt social, and emotional skills within high-risk teens. Youth Guidance has reduced violent crime arrests in youth by 50 percent, and overall arrests in youth by 35 percent.

This development has caught the attention of many higher up public officials such as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama whose foundations have both sponsored the programs.

According to Hancock’s administration, Youth Guidance explained that for a school of about 1,000 students, at least 50 students need to participate in their WOW and BAM programs consistently.  Because only about 30 students participated in a non-consistent manner (not always showing up for group sessions during AC Lab), Youth Guidance finds it necessary to take these programs to another school that shows a higher need and where participation by students might be higher.

Erika Gamino, a former two-year member of Working on Womanhood, believes that the programs should remain at Hancock. “Throughout the years, I grew relationships with the people I met in the program. I would visit my counselor or talk to the other girls. W.O.W was a safe space for me to express feelings or problems I was having. Everyone in the program is on the same journey as you, just trying to better themselves.  We would be supportive of each other.”

The goal of Working on Womanhood program is to do just that. It was created in order to promote the use of group therapy in a safe space. “Even for me, I’m not the most outgoing person, I came into high school, not knowing many people, W.O.W helped me make friends,and build relationships,” says Erika.

Juan Perez, currently a junior here at Hancock, joined Becoming a Man his freshmen year. He believes that the program should remain at Hancock. In an interview, Juan explained how B.A.M has influenced him and the decisions he makes. “Because of B.A.M, I avoided a lot of conflicts. I think I’ve grown as a person. I have more respect for people now.  I’m like more calm, and I don’t let things bother me as much. B.A.M taught me to think about my actions before I do them. I always consider consequences, or how others will feel,” he explains.

Juan feels that Hancock should be exposed to a program like this and that without the program, Hancock will be negatively affected. “Without Youth Guidance programs, I think more drama and conflicts will go unresolved– administration can’t handle all of our issues. Just because we’re smart doesn’t mean we don’t have issues.”

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