Largest city in the upstate
Home to four independent theaters (BI-LO Center, The Peace Center, The Warehouse Theatre, and Centre Stage)
Total urban area population: 400,492
31.54% Black/African American
1.27% Asian American
0.14% American Indian
3.44% Hispanic/Latino of any race
Median household income: $33,144
The MSY Program implemented by Communities In Schools (CIS) of Greenville (a dropout prevention program) took place in three Greenville County public schools that serve at-risk youth: (1) Greer Middle School, (2) Lakeview Middle School, and (3) Tanglewood Middle School. Together, through the MSY Program, the three schools served 47 students.
Each of the three MSY facilitators works as a youth social worker and manages a caseload of students at these schools. Recruitment, therefore, was not an issue. For example, Katie Keller, CIS site coordinator at Lakeview Middle School and MSY Program coordinator, used her Monday after-school club time with 15 students to implement the MSY Program. The established rapport with these students allowed Ms. Keller to jump right into the MSY Program and adapt it as necessary given the known interests of her students. The setting for the MSY lessons was a home economics classroom—ideally equipped with a kitchen, sinks, and a long table. Because Ms. Keller implemented the MSY Program with students already enrolled in after-school programs, her site’s costs were contained (e.g., there were no overhead costs or costs to pay for facilitator salaries).
The mission of Communities In Schools (Greenville affiliate incorporated in 1991, national organization in the 1970s) is to surround students with a community of support empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.
Ashlee Barnes, site manager at Tanglewood Middle School and MSY Program facilitator, has been working in middle schools for 12 years. Tanglewood Middle School is a Title I school serving sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade boys and girls, most of whom are enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program. (Note: Title I schools are those with high numbers of children from low-income families that receive federal funds to help ensure that all children meet state academic standards). Ms. Barnes serves as case manager at Tanglewood for 35 students in the after-school program. Because students do not attend after-school activities consistently, she drew from a list of 20 students to ensure an average of 10 to 12 sixth-grade students participated in MSY every Thursday, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., for 10 weeks.
CIS implemented all modules of the MSY Program curriculum, including the pre- and post-curriculum assessment surveys, at three separate sites. Staff held all modules on school campuses, mainly utilizing the home economics classroom and cafeteria.
Greer Middle School
Greer Middle School engaged students in nine 2-hour sessions and one final video compilation session combining media and thoughtful messaging. The Big Production took place after a field trip to the local news station where students actively participated in mock-news tapings. They met with different set workers to discuss the career aspects of reporters, anchors, camera people, and crew members.
Lakeview Middle School
Lakeview Middle School followed the MSY curriculum sequentially for 90 minutes per week and completed the Big Production in a two-part series—preparation and execution. The Big Production was conducted in newscast format. Students assisted as writers, reporters, a host, cue card holders, and crew members. They used iPhones to record the Big Production.
Tanglewood Middle School
Tanglewood Middle School completed its MSY Program in eight sessions during 2-hour blocks, following the curriculum sequentially. For the Big Production, students created two videos focused on the importance of healthy eating and exercising with “peer persuasion” as the theme. They also visited Merus Refreshment Services, Inc., to learn about “out-of-the-box” careers. After that visit, one student said she was considering being a truck driver who delivers food—a career path for which she had never previously been exposed.
Each of the site coordinators found the MSY Program curriculum “extremely easy to implement” because of the materials provided and assistance available. “It was a matter of building that time into their program planning at the beginning of the school year.” However, administrative staff found the students still had room to improve on their Big Production pieces. That said, this first experience with MSY offered this grantee a foundation from which to improve processes when they implement the program again.
Youth and Community Response to the Media-Smart Youth Program
All sites reported that the students enjoyed the MSY Program and wanted it to continue for more than the allotted time. Some students had not had the opportunity before the program to taste such a wide array of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy dessert options, and well-balanced meals.
Youth participants most enjoyed the healthy snacks (e.g., string cheese, fresh fruits, vegetables) and learning about their nutritional value, followed by the physical activities (e.g., games), especially given that they had been in classrooms all day. Ms. Barnes, for example, made it a point to convey to the youth that healthy snacks “are not necessarily expensive.”
It was gratifying for one of the facilitators, Ms. Barnes, to see that the youth enjoyed experimenting with fruits and vegetables, as the school lunch and snacks they receive are not optimal with respect to nutritional value. “Kids would enthusiastically ask, ‘What are we going to make today?’”
Participants least enjoyed the writing activities. Ms. Barnes suspects this is partly because “it may have been too much for 11- to 12-year-olds.” Moreover, she explained, “The children did not know what a blog is; this population doesn’t blog, nor do their parents. And the only computer access they have is at school.”
A classroom teacher assisted Ms. Barnes with the technological aspects of the Big Production, while she encouraged the students to “think about how they wanted to convey the message to the audience.” For the Big Production, the students created two short videos—a girls’ video and a boys’ video. Ms. Barnes said, “The students were able to make the connection between negative media portrayals of food and activity and their own decisions about eating and physical activity.”
All of the site coordinators expressed how easy it was to implement the MSY Program and curriculum. To them, “the materials provided and the assistance available reassured them that they could implement without fail.”
Successes, Challenges, and Lessons Learned
“I was proud of how the kids handled themselves.”
Katie Keller, Coordinator
The middle school developmental stage is awkward for most sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders. According to Ms. Keller, “Kids at this age can be insecure, self-centered, scared to do something wrong, and feel like the whole world is watching them.” She observed that activities that engaged the whole group of youth equally worked best, rather than activities that might shine the light on only one student.
Ms. Keller adapted the MSY Program so that most of the time was spent doing hands-on activities. The field trips also were definitely a highlight of the program for both kids and school administrators, who remarked on the “connection made to real-world applications and career forethought.” Participants in her group took a field trip to Generous Garden, a nonprofit garden that grows organic produce and provides food to homeless shelters and food pantries. MSY participants worked in the gardens.
For Ms. Keller, working on the Big Production with the youth participants was both a challenge and a success. It was through this activity that she was able to see what the youth had learned. Participants developed a newscast with interviews about the importance of physical activity and that being active can include vacuuming your home and is not necessarily confined to activities such as running or playing soccer. “I was proud of how the kids handled themselves,” Ms. Keller noted.
Working in a school setting can be challenging, especially when trying to retain participation and interest among adolescents. Sometimes, the after-school program at Tanglewood Middle School was cancelled because of a PTA meeting, Spring Fling, or spring break. This affected the time available to complete the Big Production. Furthermore, after-school participation tends to fall off later in the school year. Ms. Barnes explained, “Students are in spring sports, and they like to go outside. Parents are worn out, too.”
In addition, because Tanglewood Middle School had recently received a poor rating by the state department of education, the principal decided against holding any field trips during the regular school day so that students could focus on academics. This affected the ability of MSY participants to visit a local television news station, as the station could only accommodate a visit from the students in the morning.
Facilitators reported that kids had difficulty understanding the vocabulary in the pre- and post-curriculum assessment surveys. Specifically, “many students didn’t know what some of the words were and therefore had many questions and concerns about taking the ‘test.’”
Scheduling conflicts also came into play when implementing the MSY Program. Ms. Keller noted that she needed more time than anticipated to fit in the pre- and post-curriculum assessment surveys as well as the Big Production. She also did not have time to take the supermarket field trip.
Ms. Keller recommended extending the MSY Program to 12 or 14 lessons. Her advice to future MSY Program coordinators is to “be flexible, know your audience, and sustain kids’ attention.”
Recommendations for Future Implementations of the Program
“The students were able to make the connection between negative media portrayals of food and activity with their own decisions about eating and physical activity.”
Ashlee Barnes, Facilitator
Ms. Barnes suggested providing additional and more creative activity ideas to the list of MSY Program Action Breaks and advised future facilitators to “be prepared to adapt and change [the lessons].” She also suggested implementing the MSY Program in the fall, when after-school participation is at its highest, or during the summer. She added that although “the lessons are highly engaging, [they] were sometimes repetitive and therefore could have been condensed.”
Ms. Barnes also commented that she would teach the MSY Program again as she “loves showing students how to eat healthy—a lot of kids don’t have a clue. I tell them, ‘You know better, you do better,’ and ‘Knowledge is power.’” She concluded, “Children really enjoyed the program. I think every session was successful.”
CIS of Greenville will seek funding to be able to use the MSY Program curriculum again in fall 2013.