Thirty ninth-grade students from Arise Academy Charter High School, the only charter school for foster youth in the country, will receive individual mentoring and social skills training through a new partnership with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Southeastern Pennsylvania. The partnership will be funded by the Stoneleigh Foundation.
Throughout the 2012–2013 school year, students will be partnered with individual mentors through Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Southeastern Pennsylvania’s national and highly acclaimed mentoring model. The organization will also manage mentor training, selection, support and screening.
Students will also receive additional life-skills training from Dr. Chuck Williams, a professor in Drexel University’s School of Education and a 2012 Stoneleigh Fellow, who is himself a former foster child.
“The goal is to prepare them to be able to be successful both inside and outside of the classroom,” Williams said. “Socially skilled youth are able to support peers, ask for help, and manage conflict, frustration and life challenges in general. This is important, given that foster youth face many life challenges ... I should know. I was once a foster child.”
Social skills activities, facilitated by Williams, will be based on the Ready-to-Use Social Skills Lessons and Activities for Grades 7–12, published by The Society for the Prevention of Violence and The Center for Applied Research in Education.
“The program has been in my heart for several years, due to work I had done with youth who were facing behavior and learning issues,” Williams said. “What I saw was that social skills training allowed them to build confidence and greater academic competence. I also realized that one of the reasons for my success, post foster care, is that God has blessed me with really good social skills, which allowed me to alter my environments. I have been able to persuade my peers as well as people in positions of power and influence to support my work and ideas — this started for me at a pretty young age. This was very important because as a Black youth in foster care I had several strikes against me; and people were prepared to limit me and stereotype me, which stills happen today, but lucky for me my social skills enables me to move around them.”
Williams is an educational psychologist and director of the Center for Prevention of School-Aged Violence in Drexel University’s School of Education. In 2011, he was called upon to speak with senior White House staff at a conference on community and faith-based partnerships and joined Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter for a roundtable on education and economic development.
“We are thrilled to support this new partnership that will provide mentors for older youth in care,” said DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose. “The importance of a supportive and caring adult in the life of a young person cannot be overstated. Mentoring programs such as this one help our youth to learn to make good decisions, develop their talents and interests, and obtain the skills they need to become successful adults.”
While much of the program will focus on developing social skills, character education and give cognitive behavioral support, mentees and mentors will also participate in social activities of their choice, including attending athletic and community events, going to dinners and movies, reviewing homework, taking trips to area colleges and universities and engaging in community service projects.
“Significant relationships with caring adults that are sustained over time greatly support student success and are the necessary complement to the rigorous and individualized academic program that we deliver to every child,” said Gabriel Kuriloff, CEO of Arise Academy.
Williams received the National Adoption Center’s Allison Award for his commitment to improving the lives of vulnerable children in 2011. Williams currently serves as a member of the Oversight Board of the Department of Human Services.
He earned a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Temple University, and a dual master’s degree in counseling and organizational dynamics from Drexel University. For more information, visit http://goodwin.drexel.edu/profiles/Chuck_Williams.php.
“I want the youth at Arise to develop similar skills,” Williams said. “However, none of this would be possible without Drexel University, DHS and the generous support of the Stoneleigh Foundation, who has agreed to support my work in this area for a few years.
“So, not only will I be a role model for foster youth, but I plan to help them through my work,” he said.