|How to Save Children: Advice from The Front Porch |
A Guide for Governments, School Systems and Communities
Stories of Unmet Needs
(And How The Porch Tries To Meet Them)
Last updated 3/6/12
In all areas of children’s lives there needs to be improvement. This list breaks it down for you with a story to help you understand it, the issues and possible solutions. The stories are real stories but sometimes mixtures of different situations. In order to explain some of the basic issues, I will compare what a lower middle (and up) class family might have to deal with on a daily basis to what a poor family in Detroit deals with. If you are not poor, please think about the following section as you go about your basic errands each week if you really want to understand poverty.
If you come from a positive perspective on helping people and understanding poverty, please skip to the basic needs section below. If you come from a negative perspective on helping people and a political background that doesn't believe in social programs, who lives with the very not compassionate view that children need to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps, I caution you to not take a negative spin and use the information in this chapter for negative purposes. This is an honest look at needs and services available with public/foundation money. If you look at the different needs of the economically disadvantaged and see how programs aren’t working and use it for an excuse to cut the program you don't understand humanity. A program, poorly designed or missing the essential piece of access to the service, a program designed by some academics who have a lot of data about what people need, but have no idea how to be sure people access the service, no understanding of local barriers to a national program, then it is passed by lawmakers who don’t bother to just run it by some of their constituents who will be eligible for the program to ask them as experts if the program will work, then – SURPRISE! The program is a flop! Then it is a chance for people who don’t believe in using pooled money to help society as a whole to say, “See nayhh nayhh social programs ARE a waste of money.” This is wildly unwise. Children still need glasses, food or tutoring. How they are delivered may be a waste of money in the program that is set up, but they still need to be provided. If you think it is not the larger society's job to provide basic needs to other human beings whose parents are not providing them, I would be happy to discuss with anyone who feels that way to explore them, their lives, their opportunities, the opportunities their children have had and we can compare it to the kids on the Porch. For example, in the book, the Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, he explains how Bill Gates had access to computers because the mother's club at his school bought a computer for the students to use. He got a jump start on the 10,000 hours of exposure to a subject that makes a person an expert. (P 35) I will change your mind. I guarantee that anyone put in the life situations many of the kids on the Porch have lived, these same people who have the cowardice to cut programs would be the same people who would cry and give up.
An example is if a parent in a child’s life is a drug addict, there are not the same resources as if they were well off. In a different program I worked in a girl had a mother who was a drug addict. Her family was well off. Her life spiraled out of control when her mom was using, the same as a child in the Porch. She went to family counseling, her dad could take time off work to take care, her grandma was well off and in her life. The girl on the Porch - no one in her family saw the need for counseling and even if they did, no one had a car to get her there, and the bus would never be able to get her there on time on a school night in the limited hours left in the day. When her life spiraled out of control, there was no support. Her grandma was an addict too. She didn't know how to give any extra support. She could just get her to school. At school she would get suspended. It would go in spurts which directly followed her mom's using and stopping schedule. Her father was in jail so there was no other parent to take her to counseling. While both the girls had problems, the chances of the Porch child making it through the classes she needed and getting her basic needs met through the rest of the family were slim to none. There is no changing the addiction, and sometimes the only supports they have are the ones from the community at large. Her support (counseling and any other basic needs that were not met with the absence/using of her mother) should have been based at school so it would be a place she was already at. Ideally, poor children whose parents have intermittent addiction problems should have the opportunity to go to a weekday boarding school (just like rich kids) so they can have the regular school schedule and basic needs met.
Government and nonprofit programs need to be accountable, but not burdened with unnecessary paperwork or awkward funding that is poorly designed for the people who it is supposed to help. For instance, children in Detroit are supposedly tested every other year for their vision. Then a letter is sent home if they need glasses. Sending a letter "home" in Detroit (where the neediest kids are moving all the time), asking parents to have to get on unreliable public transportation, to access a government benefit they might not even know they have, to take the time and effort is too much for some parents. Some schools take kids to the eyeglass shop as a group to get them. There really should be a mobile eyeglass shop for the city. I suspect, after seeing how many kids do not have glasses that need them, that this impacts the literacy rate in Detroit to such an extent that if a study were done, all institutions involved in this would be embarrassed.
Some people could say, “See, taxpayers pay for those public health eye evaluations and parents do not take their kids to get the glasses, even though they are free. That program should be cut.” WHAT? NO. What is wrong with politicians sometimes? It means you FIX the program, don’t use it as an excuse to cut a needed program. That same politician has eye insurance paid for by taxpayers, why shouldn’t children so they can READ? Some people can only read this page because they have glasses paid for by taxpayers depending on their job. Get a spine, I say to these people. Get on the yellow brick road and find a heart, a brain and some courage and be a mensch. Broken programs don’t belong in the garbage if the need is still there – they need to be looked at – by community, politicians and academics and FIXED. Gracious. Who would deny a child the chance to see and read?
Eviction and homelessness
One large family was staying in a friend of a friend’s house. Something went wrong and they knew they would have to leave. The kids stayed until the last minute, until all their stuff was carried out in the street when their mom was not home. I found them sitting on all their stuff on the lawn, waiting for her to come home. What could I do? They had to wait for her to see where they would go the next night. I bought them pizzas and checked back to be sure their mom came for them. There are a few families that move from house to house, dodging eviction, sometimes this is so often that kids accept it as normal. I used to wonder why they didn’t treasure the art projects they made or treated furniture at the center with such disregard. Well, if your stuff ends up on the lawn regularly at 3 month intervals, there is no reason to care for it.
Occasionally, there are families that their houses burn, more than once. Thanks to social service agencies that give money for burnt out families, some families are perpetual abusers of this system. They should not be giving cash out. Instead, they should offer a lovely stay at a shelter. That would certainly cut down on fraud.
There should be some system in place for evictions of families with children. A van from a shelter should just come and pick them up on the last day. Families who are evicted from rental properties (of whom many are single parents) move around the city, putting children in the position of changing schools frequently sometimes with their records being lost, their special support services interrupted or just plain ended. Children also suffer the trauma of leaving a place where there may be a social support network they will have to rebuild in a new neighborhood, in addition to the horror of having all their belongings put out in front of their house. There needs to be special rules for evicting families with children, with transportation to a shelter and a meeting with a social worker on the day the court comes to evict them.
Section 8 (rental payment housing assistance)
One rental family had to move because the owner of the house let it go into foreclosure, while the family was still paying their Section 8 money. As it turned out they were overpaying the Section 8 money and the owner never told them that. Section 8 needs to be more tightly regulated. If people are not able to make their section 8 payment, social workers should be called in. Sometimes this is $25/month or $100/month. People with addiction problems cannot afford section 8, if you know what I am saying. Just about everyone else can. This is a red flag for the children in that house that should be followed up on by social workers.
Right now, there is a stalled waiting list and a lottery to get Section 8. This is nearly criminal since there are so many empty houses and so much need in Detroit.
HEALTH CARE/DENTAL CARE
At one of the billion awful meetings I have been forced to attend, I was sitting next to a doctor who complained that when they parked the immunization van in a nearby neighborhood on a Saturday, not one parent brought their child to it. Did she know to come after noon when everyone is up? Did she know that Detroit is relational – that means it had to be that someone in the neighborhood knew someone on that van, who would then tell other people? Trust and institutions are not always one package, rarely they are for African Americans. Had she had a relationship with the schools there, told parents the day before through the schools? Nope. So why would they expect anyone to bring their kids? The fine art of the relationship precludes anything else in Detroit and in many communities. Yes, it’s a lot of emotional labor, staff time, smiling and chatting. But you can’t be perceived as a cold white person or bourgeois African American person and expect people to trust you to help them.
The kids who have seen the mobile dentist have always come back with a good experience. At the local elementary school, the mobile dentist was up there on the auditorium stage and I got a wave from one of the kids with a hygienist cleaning her teeth. It is a really positive and much needed service. There is probably one dentist within walking distance from the school. Having it at the school makes it so easy for parents. They just have to sign the slip, not drive anywhere or make an appointment etc. If kids have non participatory parents, there is still a chance for a tooth cleaning then. Often the parents do not get the permission slip because it is in a crumpled ball at the bottom of their book bag. Just because school staff sends a paper home does not mean that parents get it. This form should be filled out at the beginning of the year when parents come up to register to minimize any confusion.
Some children are not forced to see the mobile dentist/doctor because of bad experiences of their parents. There needs to be a trust relationship built between the service provider and the children they serve. If they could come before the scheduled date, do a presentation, play a game, explain what they do, and get to know the kids, children may be more likely to tell their parents it is a good thing. We find parents discouraging their children from going for routine dental cleanings, only to subject kids to dentist visits when they are in pain. It wouldn’t have to be the dentist him/herself coming out to classes and parent days, maybe a hygienist or outreach person from the service. The mobile health care should also be able to treat the whole family and come to the school on days parents are there to establish a reputation and relationships. There is such poor public transportation that even getting to a doctor is a problem, so having health care at school is paramount.
Sometimes, the shootings happened when the kids were on the Porch. It was hard. The worst, absolute worst one was when I was trying to connect the kids with the kids at the local refugee shelter. They had much more in common with those kids than suburban Detroit kids. Two refugee children from Rwanda were visiting the Porch, talking with the kids. Thankfully, one kind older teen who knew we were outside had heard there was about to be some shooting and let us know. One teen volunteer and my mother took care of the Rwandan kids in the house and distracted them with a game; while I and one dad lied to the kids and told them they were bad and all in trouble and had to go in their houses right now. I hurried the Rwandan kids in the car and drove off just before the shooting and ambulance came (that was back when ambulances still came here). Many houses in the neighborhood have been shot up a few times.
What is the solution to the shooting? I will say this, the amendment for people having the right to have arms, if you read it all the way through, is about having "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.", not shooting near a game of Uno about a disagreement about the underground economy. American forefathers turn in their graves every time the kids and I have to get down and run from shooting.
Living in an area where there is an out-in-the open underground economy versus the hidden suburban underground economy gives me very practical views about it. I am also aware that this is nothing new or particular to current generations. This border town has long been a city with a healthy underground - like the Purple Gang. However, there are particular things that are bothersome to neighbors about people participating in the underground economy in Detroit. The stupid “War on Drugs” with the raid is a waste, because it ALWAYS comes back. It’s really just a business, with gangs like little Avon clusters with the consumers having an undying need for the product for Pete’s sake. So the problems just calm down for a while and come back.
On the Porch we just focus on helping kids see the positive things about themselves and that they can choose another path. If at all possible, we have tried to give teenagers jobs so they have another option, but lately we haven’t had the funding and there are no other jobs for teens nearby. From all sides the underground economy makes urban children pawns in an unsavory international train wreck that we just hope children don’t choose.
Any crackdowns should be on those participating in the underground economy who allow their business to affect quality of life in a neighborhood through the constant threat of violence (terrorism, actually), shooting up neighborhoods and the extra business speeding traffic brings to residential areas endangering children. If cleaning up urban neighborhdoos focused on getting them to run their businesses in a more community friendly way, stop shooting in neighborhoods and use a storefront with adequate parking instead of a house for their business, or only allow regulated selling a certain part of the city that children are not allowed to go to (like in Europe), life would be much safer for children. The kids and I can tell you from lying on our bellies waiting for shooting to stop; the way they are dealing with it now hasn’t changed it a bit in all these years. From the trenches I can tell you the “War on Drugs” has been one big fat joke on taxpayers.
Debriefing is an essential part of working in a violent neighborhood. Kids need to talk about what they were doing when the shooting started. How they felt about it. Was it fair? Is it like this everywhere? Why does this go on here? They need to think it through critically and work through any emotions. While it can become regular, there is always some amount of alarm to work through. We learned through the years to not let neighborhood chaos be an excuse for kids to not do their homework etc. Those sorts of everyday things keeps a sense of normalcy and makes stronger kids. I remember once when we went to a beautiful garden on a field trip about 45 minutes from home. Someone in the parking lot turned on their motorcycle and it sounded just like gunshots. The kids and I all squatted down we were so used to it at that time. Again, we had to talk it through.
Our field tips to haunted houses/cornfields were specifically to counteract real fear. It sounds crazy, but even I , who live in the same environment, know that there is something oddly therapeutic about going to a place where you are engineered to be scared at your own will. Maybe some psychologist can explain it, but this is wildly our most popular field trip. In a neighborhood that has its share of real nightmares and kids who have lived many nightmares, to be really actually scared at a fake situation is surprisingly therapeutic. This is super expensive though. We are always looking for a funder for this trip $200 for the bus and $15/kid admission.
CPR/First Aid classes do something amazing for teens. Is there a more empowering life skill than the ability to save someone’s life? Lessons are expensive but they should be free for teens that are economically challenged. It should actually be a required school class. We found someone to give the kids safety classes. The only way this worked was in one long day – we have a problem getting the same kids two days in a row because of lack of parental participation to be sure they return. We actually paid some of our older teen helpers to come. Other kids could come and get community service hours if they wanted. For kids inclined toward health professions, it was a good chance for them to see if that is something they would really like to do. We needed them for the staff too, so no one lost in the deal. I can’t say enough good things about this. Especially in a city where calling an ambulance is a sketchy gamble, this skill is even more valuable.
One of the teens was pregnant, trying to be a good little mama and get to her pre-natal care appointment on a hot summer day. The hospital is about a 10 minute drive from the neighborhood. The one bus that could take her there blatantly passed her up. Someone somehow eventually came and picked her up to get her there. Neither she nor her boyfriend have a car. Imagine every errand of their life once that baby is here. A nightmare. I almost cry when I see teen moms waiting for the bus in Detroit. In Detroit, it can be zero degrees and the bus may never come.
If you live in Detroit, you may have seen our group by the bus stop when it was 90 degrees in summer. Kids asking when is the bus coming. Checking the schedule. Everyone sweating. It was supposed to be here a half hour ago. And if you drive by an hour later, maybe you’d see us walking for 2 miles to the water park because the bus didn’t come. I turned to one of the suburban volunteers and said can you imagine trying to get to work on this? Impossible for the kids and adults alike.
A tool of ghettoization, of oppression, the Detroit bus system. Transportation has been a particular irritating challenge. The buses are rare and off schedule.
Some of the kids went ice skating for the first time. Their own parents saw how much they enjoyed it and wanted to take them on their own. The parents didn't have a car. The kids could only go on the weekend because of school. The weekend buses rarely come and now they are cut even more. It takes at least two buses to get downtown (a 15 minute or 7 mile drive). The cost of the bus ride is $3.50 round trip per child. There is a student fee but they would have to get a student card that they can only get at a place that is another bus ride or two away. They can't just get it at the school. And it is not free, it is a $2 card. They don't have one. So, on a day cold enough for ice skating, who would want their child out waiting for a Detroit bus that may never come in the cold? Or how about where they change buses, maybe somewhere desolate? Even though there were teenagers, would you let them go without you? Then it is $9 for each child to skate at the only ice rink they can get to in the city from here for 2 buses. Really? Even if you are a mom who wants your children to try new things, its nearly impossible. When I take them there and they see the suburban kids doing the ice shows at the festival and I see this longing look in my kids eyes, I am so sad and disgusted. I know there is not an equal opportunity for them to be a figure skater or any sport that requires a parent to drive them anywhere. They are cut from the opportunity in the first breath. When I see a group of economically disadvantaged kids on a field trip acting a way that is odd for the event or activity they are doing, I know its because they get so few chances to try anything new. They are so cheated.
Solution: Run the buses like they should be in every other city on earth. I always tell the kids that Detroit is the only city on the planet with buses like this. They need to understand that how those buses run is not normal.
Kids who move mid-year or who no longer get along socially/academically in the school they are at need free transportation. Free bus passes are extremely difficult to get from schools. Reduced fare still makes it $1.50/day to go to school ($270/year). Many parents do not have that. In addition, it involves giving children cash. They do not always spend it correctly. In their out-of-school hours, this also ghettoizes them. Many cannot afford to get to events, other family member’s houses, the library, or friends houses. If kids get a bus card to ride for free and lose it, they cannot get a new one.
Solution: ALL youth get bus cards with photo to ride for free. This also gives the youth accountability for how they act on the bus. They would be no anonymous rider. There needs to be the ability to cancel a lost card and get a new one. Cards should have photos on them. Their student ID can have a strip on it to use on the bus. Coordination between DDOT and DPS.
Transportation for the kids for trips was always complicated. The van company was poorly run, and even as a constantly complaining board member, I hadn’t realized I was up against a group of people whose friendships far outweighed their long range vision for the community, a common issue with corporations and non-profits everywhere. The bus was consistently late, and often not scheduled for when we asked. It often just depended on who scheduled the trip for us. Some of the staff hated the extra work and so would be sure to mess up our trips. Sometimes it was just raging incompetence, and sometimes it was maliciousness. The individual bus drivers, on the whole, were incredibly kind to us. Sometimes they would even come with us as chaperones and they were fabulous. I think the kids really got a good sense of community when the fun bus driver was on the mountain bike behind them in some woods.
Solution: For Detroit or other transportation-poor cities, centralized free transportation should be available for youth groups. This takes away lots of issues: auto insurance, training and oversight of drivers, licensing, maintenance etc. Buses could be used efficiently by dropping off one group, then going to pick up another and returning to pick up groups. Groups could call for a bus/small van up to 3 days in advance to schedule field trips or appointments. Youth would always need to be chaperoned by adult in their group or parent. Services should be evaluated by groups and sent to an independent evaluator.
Kids love to ride. In the city though, parents would let kids out of sight with their bikes rarely. Ironically, the only kids I can think of that were allowed to ride wherever they wanted were the neighborhood bike thieves. Lol! There is more on bike theft in the behavior section. They could only do the long bike ride with an adult and no parents were volunteering. My theory is that people in Detroit drive crazy because so many people cannot afford driving school and just take the test at 18. This makes a bad situation for bikers. Bike lanes should be made to connect recreation centers, schools, parks, and libraries. Helmets are certainly not popular in Detroit. Bikes and helmets should be available for free for all youth groups to get around with free bike riding safety lessons. There is more about appropriate biking programs for recreation and an exemplary one in the biking section on recreation.
The Walking Bus
The walking bus, where kids are gathered by going to each house and them joining the other kids on a walk to a particular destination, is the most efficient transportation/exercise/relationship builder I know of. We would do the walking bus to the community center. If I would have just gone up to the center and waited for the kids to show up, there never would have been kids. We were never the group who had a majority of parents that dropped off. Sometimes we would go and knock on doors. Once the kids got into a routine, it was usually better. Programming has to be consistent for kids to be able to keep up with the schedule themselves.
The value of walking with children is underrated. This would be where some of our most important conversations would take place. There is nothing to do but talk. Throw a wagon in there for fun for the kids. It has turned out to be better than bike riding, where conversations are difficult to be heard. Kids would interrupt each other to get a chance to speak with the adults or teen volunteers to tell them about their day. Walking also improved their behavior considerably on the way to the center. Getting that energy out before doing homework was essential to our behavior management. For a short period of time, the bus picked up the kids and their behavior was atrocious. Even if the group had one million billion dollars, we would never ever go back to the bus. You would think that walking, sometimes in the dark, in Detroit would be dangerous. Only once did a crazy lady come after us with a broom, and that was only after one of the kids egged her on. It was quite funny, but a little scary since I was responsible for the kids. I assure you that a majority of evil minded people and most adults avoid any large group of children. They repel all adults – like a many armed yelling, laughing busy monster.
A lot of people have commented how people in Detroit don’t cross the street properly and walk in the street. Walking with the kids gave adults a chance to explain the rules of walking that most people take for granted because they walked with parents as children – kids just don’t walk with parents anymore – and I don’t think Detroit is the only place this is happening. Some kids were used to walking to the neighborhood discount grocery store only out of necessity. This also partly explains the obesity problems.
When it was too snowy, we put the stuff for the day’s activities and food on the sled and would drag the sled up there. We would bring an extra sled for the kids to pull each other up there. We would never allow bikes. Bikes have to be everyone or no one because kids inevitably get ahead on the bike which is super dangerous at streets. Kids also learned that regardless of the weather, you just keep on going. If it’s raining, you put on a raincoat (we provided), if its snowing, you just keep on walking (we kept extra gloves and hats). Only less than 20 degrees, lightening, hail and tornadoes would make me cancel the walking. Over 90 degrees is also dangerous, but on the way to the water park, kids were willing to suffer. On snow days, there were still kids ready, overly ready to go to the center. Parents were always reluctant to let their kids walk at first, but once they’d see all of them in that group all the time, they realized that kids were safe. No one was bothering that mob with the wagon, the bags of groceries, pots and pans and art supplies.
The issue of kids coming to school with dirty clothes on is far more complex than you might first expect. There are kids whose only way to wash clothes is in the bathtub then they hang them up to dry. There have been several kids like this. A more creative solution one parent thought of was to keep going back to the charity that gives away clothes and then wear the clothes until they were too dirty and then throw them out. Then there is the “inside out” theory, that if you wear your clothes inside out, they don’t look as dirty. There are the kids who are not wearing socks in winter – because their socks are so dirty they can’t wear them anymore.
The closest Laundromat is about a one mile walk. If folks can’t afford a washer or they had a washer and their extended family wrecked it, washing in the tub or walking to the Laundromat (or if you are lucky you have a car or ride) are your only options. If there is no money to do the laundry, no time, or just adults without the motivation, clothes stay dirty. When we came across kids like this, we have offered to them to bundle up their clothes and we will take them to the Laundromat to wash the clothes. None have taken it up. We have toyed with the idea of trying to get a washing machine donated, but we aren’t sure how long it would be taken care of if the family didn’t buy it themselves and value it. This is surprisingly one of the most difficult issues we have dealt with. As it is, we reluctantly give clothes to kids who need them and space it out so if they are throwing them out, newer stuff doesn’t end up in the garbage with older clothes. One school had a washing machine that they would wash the kids’ school clothes in. That was good. We would have liked to have had one at the community center. This one needs a solution that we haven’t been able to figure out yet. Maybe a laundry card like a food stamp card. Maybe schools need washing machines and dryers. There needs to be a washing machine and dryer or a laundry service that will wash uniforms. Maybe families without washing machines/dryers could then be encouraged to apply to a program for free/low cost washers/dryers.
AFRICAN AMERICAN HAIR
People who are not African American usually don’t understand the importance of this to African American people. Historically, African American people have been coerced by white people to want straight hair, mostly from the roots of racism in the country and the fact that most hair care product companies that cater to African Americans are owned by white people, so there is a financial stake in continuing this constant daily oppression. In this endless and expensive pursuit, African American kids, mainly girls, whose hair is not carefully cared for with chemicals and hours of work are mercilessly teased. Whatever your opinion about it, the fact remains that children are teased to a level that could only be equated with the teasing that comes with an actual disability in other cultures. I am not joking, not overemphasizing. This is why children whose families are economically disadvantaged need the chance to get their hair done for free. Maybe there could be coupons to local barber/beauty or in-school hair day for kids who need it. Natural hair styles should be promoted in school for the health and self-esteem of the children, mostly African American girls.
NUTRITION AND BUILDING COMMUNITY THROUGH FOOD
The community center often smelled like seasoned chicken cooking and fresh cut cucumbers because the teenagers were setting up a salad bar for the younger kids. Near the holidays, looking in the barred windows, you would see a room crowded with adults and children, glue and glitter, paper plates and cookies decorated by enthusiastic children. Teens had walked through the snow to the local grocery store (the bus company would not schedule a bus for them) and bought all the food for the group. More came to the center and an adult helped to cook up the meal for 40 for the holiday party that was full of gifts, craft projects, family portraits and food proudly made by young adults and whichever younger kids the older kids deemed worthy to help them. At least once a week, another adult volunteer insisted that the kids sit down and eat all at one time. Community meals were a wonderful part of everyone’s days, back when we had a food budget and a center to cook in.
Having a food budget allowed us to control what they ate. This was also nutrition class only there were no worksheets or videos to watch, nothing to read – the experiential learning of cooking and eating. Kids picked the menu within specific limits and in getting the limits they learned about nutrition. We were always finding new ways to get them to try new foods and healthier ways to prepare the foods that they normally ate. It was a challenge that sometimes included the classic crying kids at the table who wouldn’t try a bite of something they didn’t eat before. Getting them to eat fruits and vegetables was a special challenge, but we figured it out. We found that cutting up fruit changes kids’ relationship to fruit immediately. Fruit is always easier to get kids to eat than vegetables, so there were a couple of teens in charge of the smoothies. We would just get some bags of frozen fruit (so it wouldn’t spoil in case no kids showed up or we could keep extra if more kids showed up), strawberry and vanilla yogurt and different juices and let the kids pick what they wanted. At one point we participated in the state’s after school lunch program. Fruit came in the packet. Kids were just throwing it out. When we brought out the knife and cutting board, and offered to cut up the fruit, the kids ate the fruit.
We would often have a salad bar. But the ranch dressing had to be rationed or 1. there would be none left and 2. all the health of the salad would have disappeared. We even had a rule to eat the romaine lettuce before seconds on chicken. If not, kids would eat the chicken off and throw out the salad. We would get a selection of other veggies and the kids could choose their salad. I think we even made a rule that they had to pick something else besides meat for the salad.
They were not allowed to bring junk food to the center. They got one or two warnings, after that, their food was taken from their hands and given back at the end of the center time. Then it just evolved into that junk food going into the garbage. This sent a ripple of fear through the kids. They warned each other. It had to be done. Kids in this neighborhood constantly had a sugary cheap juice in their hand rotting their teeth, and candy or the 25 cent bag of chips clogging their arteries.
Sometimes there were adventurous eaters, mostly kids who had a cook or chef in their family. I would let these kids choose new dishes and lead the way with the food, like sushi. My favorite nutrition moment was when we really had so little money at the end of our time at the center that chicken for 20 was out of the question. I experimented with some tofu. I drained it, froze it and then thawed it and then asked one kid who could both cook and keep a secret to put Shake n Bake on the tofu and pan fry it (I hadn’t figured out how to bake it right yet). The kids put this on their salad and asked for more. Later though they said they didn’t much like that chicken. I know it’s because they had some unexplained gas (tofu is soybeans). Some of the kids there that night know now the secret. They still squint their eyes at me and say, “Jean made us eat tofu.” But then they’ll say it tasted like…chicken.
We also had a breakfast sandwich competition where we got lots of breakfast sandwich ingredients and the kids built their own sandwich and whoever had the healthiest sandwich won a prize. We added up the calories of each piece from a nutrition website. We tried serving hot breakfast off the Porch. We would take their order, fruit, an egg sandwich and a yogurt stick. This was just for a few kids for it to be convenient. Kids want a hot breakfast, not cereal. Also the cereal doesn’t provide the protein they need to not feel hungry for the long important learning time to lunch. School breakfast should be a required part of the morning for kids. It should be hot and tasty so they want to eat it. Fruit served should be fresh and cut up. “In a study involving hundreds of inner-city elementary school students in Baltimore and Philadelphia, it was found those who ate breakfast had 40% higher math grades and were less apt to be absent from school or tardy. Those who did not eat breakfast were twice as likely to be depressed, four times as likely to suffer from anxiety and 30% more likely to be hyperactive.” (Rewire your Brain by John B. Arden, PhD John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 2010. p 93)
Ms. Karen would make them lunches to take when she would visit them at school as a part of the Advocacy program. It was her cover for going to visit them. Most kids hated the school lunch. I had only one good review of lunch and it was some bizarre DPS lunch that kids had to pay for to get the good lunch. Awful. So we were always giving them cut up fruit or a whole piece, a sandwich with veggies, meat and cheese on that wheat bread that looked white, and a granola bar or trial mix and juice. We found the books Eat This, Not That helpful to explain good eating to kids and parts of Fueling the Teen Machine books with them. But mostly, we found just not allowing outside food and giving them food was the only way we could address the food issues. Sometimes they had behavior problems because they were hungry. Maybe they were late for school and missed the breakfast program or are just on a hunger strike against the school lunch. I would like to know the actual number of kids just refusing to eat, who are hungry, because school lunch is so awful.
How many times have we seen kids just drink pop for breakfast or lunch? One million times. We just outright forbade junk food years ago, based entirely on our observations of behavior change. Turns out, we were right. “When researchers from Yale University gave twenty-five healthy children a drink containing the amount of glucose found in most soft drinks, the rebound in blood sugar boosted their adrenaline to more than five times their normal level for up to five hours. Most of these children found it difficult to concentrate and were anxious and irritable. Similarly researchers in Finland assessed the effects of sugar consumption on 404 children ages ten and eleven. They found that withdrawal, anxiety, depression, delinquency and aggression were twice as frequent in those who consumed 30 percent more sucrose in the form of soft drinks, sugary snacks and ice cream.” (John B. Arden, PhD, Rewire Your Brain, P 97)
I’ve had a lot of problems with other adults who worked with the kids – getting them to follow the same guidelines that the kids have. I couldn’t have volunteers showing up eating a bag of chips when I had just snatched a bag and threw it out from a kid. Adults are quite attached to bad eating habits and it’s hard to get them to realize that children learn more from observing and mimicking behavior than by rules blasted out of adult mouths full of chips.
In summer, we give the kids a lunch. Our times didn’t match to the free summer lunch program so we have always had to pay for it from our budget. The program started at around 3 pm and for most of them, getting up at 12 or 1 pm, this was their first and maybe only meal of the summer day. Plus, we took them swimming and walked a couple of miles. They got a sandwich, fruit, and granola or the “granola bar bar”. We had tried to get them to eat trail mix, but they were throwing out certain pieces (raisins filled the garbage). So we got individual nuts and dried fruits and put them in separate containers. A teen helper would dish out a few spoons full in a baggie so they could pick what they liked. Then later they got another piece of fruit or granola. And they were still hungry. Ms. Karen would always say “Because they are hungry for food Jean. They are just eating chips and candy”.
And water. It was hard to get kids to drink water instead of juice. In summer we insist on it. At the center and in lunches they got juice. The 100% juice was expensive but it was all we went with. And there was almost never dessert offered. If they weren’t eating candy every minute of every day (like passing the candy shop on the way to the center – this church fundraiser shop was a fight every day!) I would have loved to be baking desserts regularly with them. Once in a while we would try different things like cupcakes, a taffy pull, ice cream and holiday cookies. We also made pizzas. The kids would partner up and we would use the packaged pizza dough envelopes for each pair, cheese and sauce. Then we would have a pizza bar where kids could pick their own toppings. They loved making those, but it always made us get out of the center at 10 pm which made no adults happy.
So basically vegetables should be in ranch. Fruit should be cut up. There should always be choices with requirements on fruits and veggies.
For the Summer Lunch Program and the After School Suppers through the Child and Adult Food Program, we needed to have a public refrigerator. Once the community center closed, we no longer had that. So our worsening poverty as a group made that poverty solution inaccessible to us. Hmmm…
The meals also include milk. This meant there was a considerable amount of milk in the garbage. An explanation for this might be that 75% of all African-Americans lactose intolerant. (http://www.umm.edu/digest/lactose.htm) The milk should be lactose free for the kids. It was a fart festival in there after those lunches.
The only way the community dinners were possible were with my non-stop trips to the grocery store. Two to three trips a week for the evening meal plus one-two trips for the lunches Ms. Karen made for the advocacy kids. The amount in gas and time was insane. I have a deep seated angst for going to the grocery store now. It was hard to find good meat and produce and all the ingredients for any recipe nearby. Produce and meat delivery to youth groups would have been helpful. A great program was at the old recreation center. A local produce company delivered boxes of very beautiful fruit to the recreation center and they gave a free piece of fruit and a granola bar to the kids as they got out of the pool. Kids will eat anything when they get out of the pool so it was brilliant.
Another food related problem groups have is sharing the refrigerator. It seems small but the refrigerator and kitchen was shared at the community center with the seniors, the employees and the kids. A war can be started with a fridge in a community group. There should be a program for groups to apply for fridges and there shouldn’t be questions as to why each group in a building needs their own fridge. Just think about the fridge at work – everyone works with someone who leaves food in there forever or eats other people’s food, only imagine that on a group level. Yikes. Sometimes the extra fridge is about keeping a good relationship and not even about food.
We were always worried we weren’t making healthy choice for the kids. So we contacted a local urban university and the head of the department very quickly they came back with a set of recommendations for snacks for the kids and answers to our questions about what we had been feeding the kids. That is a great partnership opportunity – between food science departments at universities and children’s groups.
If I walk a block from here, the healthiest food I could get would be a Subway sub. At any liquor store, there is no fresh fruit, and some are downright nasty places. Healthy food is not cheap or available in neighborhood. Healthy food should be put on ice cream trucks, at party stores, after school, and at Coney Islands - subsidize it to be cheap. These should be tasty healthy choices.
In order to do grocery shopping, a family has to carry bags of groceries at least 6 blocks if they do not have a car. If they do buy a newspaper for coupons, the neighborhood newspapers have less coupons than the ones in the suburbs. If the parents have a low literacy rate, they don't know how to compare prices. If they do, they can only be angry because two particular chains of local grocery stores rob them blind.
Kids who have a dead parent or who are special needs get a check. And those kids need those checks to survive. Those checks are also sometimes misused by the people they are in kinship care with. Adults will use those checks for their needs or the needs of their own children and not help the child who the check is intended for. These checks need to come. They also need to be better regulated, with visits from social workers to check and be sure those children are getting food and clothes from that money. It may mean a voucher for clothes, and then a check to be sure the size is the size of the child in question. A visit to that child at school would be ideal because if the family is stealing the money from the child, they may be scared to tell the tale at home. I know this is ugly, and it is not all the time. I have seen this same thing happen to rich friends who were minors, whose parents die leave money, so realize this is just what some adults do, rich or poor, but children don’t have a lawyer to call and complain that adults are dipping in their money. It’s been going on forever. (Haven’t you ever read the little princess?) A social worker is the only one who’s going to know.
We had a photography class that was a service project for the local university students. It was wonderful except for the fact that our kids came regularly to nothing. Any program, like the local Extension’s nutrition program, that required kids to come a certain amount of times, didn’t work. When people get paid to design a program, they need to consider the fact that there are children whose parents don’t say, “Oh, little Johnny, its time for photography class. Get your coat on.” Our program was often whatever kids remembered or walked by that day. Yes, I know it makes building on previous teaching difficult. But if it turns out some kids are able to show dedication, have a second session for those kids.
Really in an after school program kids have about a 10 minute attention span for someone talking at them. Adults forget that children have been at school all day listening and doing what people say. It is mean to expect that same behavior for more hours of the day.
Dance classes were always hard on us. Kids would never show up for each practice. The few kids who did were frustrated by the drop in kids, but we wouldn’t have enough kids to make a program if just the two or three regular showing up kids would come. There always needs to be tracks, and even this doesn’t always work. There always need to be a drop in class going on so that kids have the chance to try it, or come back three weeks later and try it again. Then the other level is for when kids show the ability to get to class and fully participate. You see these are two barriers. Maybe kids want to come, but they had to clean up or watch little brothers or sisters. I’ve seen too often parents actually sabotage their child’s participation on purpose. Again, it’s the icy fingers of the culture of failure that exists in Detroit. Kids also had to get to the class, which meant the walking bus for us. There had to be a volunteer to head that up, so it wasn’t just paying the dance teacher.
The rules to the Porch (and I think good rules for life) are: keep your hands to yourself, don’t cuss at other kids, and don’t make fun of other kids, no secrets, and no junk food. For the center there was a lengthy list mostly having to do with the building, homework time, eating, and free time.
If there is a charge for something, we are sure to make a "per family" fee so that big families can participate.
How to Treat Youth
Many times on field trips where there were other youth groups, I saw adults who were just taking up space. On the Porch I expect the other adults and teens who are with the children to participate and be engaged fully in the activities. Do I need to say it? Children learn by example. That whole having an adult conversation over children who are already attention starved is unacceptable. "Models persuade far more effectively than words. For example, in one set of experiments, children were exposed to an adult model that preached either greed or charity to them in a persuasive sermon. However, that adult then wen on to practice with greedy or charitable actions. The results showed that the children were more likely to do what the model did than what the model had said." (The Lucifer Effect, Dr. Zimbardo, P 451)
Maybe because the Front Porch has always been short on adult help it has its own sort of life as far as empowered children go. If anything sometimes the children act too much in charge. In the end though, allowing them to decide where to go on field trips what activities to do, how things should be done, what the rules are, make them healthy contributing members to society. It makes them better co-workers, students, and critical thinkers. I know that Front Porch kids, the children lucky enough to have gotten many pieces of the Porch in their lives may be considered challenging to the adults in their lives who come from a background of "seen and not heard". On the other hand, Front Porch kids accomplish amazing things like miles and miles of biking or walking, scientific discovery, pushing the limits of their creativity. Front Porch kids are "becoming", not merely existing.
An example is one girl who spent weeks and weeks off the Porch for directly cussing adults out, time and time again. Finally she had come to photography class and made it through. She was explaining to her sister in the darkroom all the steps involved with clarity and certainty. She had become a teacher, she was not just there. Just taking up space, just angry.
Adults are encouraged to never make promises they cannot keep. Getting most projects done is never as important as managing the relationships that are going on around the project. It is unbearable to see the perfect science project and the miserable kid.
Adults are encouraged to ask children questions, not just tell them things. Helping kids think things through is a million times more valuable than just telling them information. I think about 80% of the time, kids are not listening to what adults are saying to them anyway. The more questions you ask, the more they say, the more they have to think and the better people they are.
Programming for different age groups
Teenage time was especially important. We found that a mixed age group made a boiling cauldron of sometimes troubled teens sharing their bad habits or picking on kids. We divided it up into 7-12 and 13-18 days, and then the third day would be for all the kids who behaved on the first two days.
Different activities have different age levels to indicate a rite of passage. No children do not need some dumb made up ceremony for a rite of passage. At 7, children were allowed to go to the community center. No, not at 6, not at 6 1/2. At 9 they can start going on bike rides. These are developmentally appropriate boundaries. We started with everyone coming and over the years have ironed it all out to make it so all the kids are happy. They give children something to look forward to. Some parents would try that garbage "If my 6 year old can't go then the 10 year old can't either." This would always just remind me that although parents have children they are not required to learn anything about child development nor are they required to understand that groups of children are very different from the few children that are their own. Children also act very differently in groups. How many times have I heard parents say, "He doesn't act like that at home."? Of course he doesn't. there isn't the girl he likes there, the boy he is trying to out-do, the friend he is trying to impress. All parents should take the opportunity to spy on their children in group activities to understand how their child is developing socially.
Programming Partnerships with Colleges
Colleges have a lot to give children but they are not organizing their students to do that. We know for certain the med school students are hungry for the community service for their own ends, but there are many other college students who would help out children if the opportunity was presented in the right way.
We participated in a service learning project with the university. College students came to teach art at community organizations. They were employees of the university so the organizations didn’t have to have staff, except one paid or volunteer liaison to the group of kids. The groups had to attend a few useful meetings about the classes. The art classes themselves were the idea of the group of nonprofits who had come together – the community actually decided themselves what to do with the federal grant money given to the university. The program offered a chance for the dancers and photographers to show off their work at a show at the end of the program. There was also an arts retreat for kids from the groups who were particularly inspired, where they got a day of arts and dance classes to sort of sample new art forms from Mexican dance to printmaking.
Another example of university involvement is through one individual student’s initiative. At High/Scope we had met a student from a university an hour away that got her student group from public policy to fundraise for our group. A few folks from the group came and the kids taught them how to do some art projects.
The head of the nutrition department at a local urban university got her students to review our food choices for their nutrition content to suggested meals and snacks for us. It would be great if for more groups they got the students to help groups plan healthy food for the kids. Students who don’t know what projects to pick for their undergrad, grad school and PhD projects would be doing a whole lot of good if they had a way to speak with a group of nonprofits who could guide them to do very useful projects that would benefit the community. This is a match that is rarely explored with both sides losing out.
In general, kids love college students. That they are in college is automatically a good influence on the kids. College students are old enough to be responsible but young enough to be a load of fun. I cannot emphasize enough how this link in communities needs to be strengthened.
We just stay away from politicians. A wise community guy told us to get what we could from them when they were running for office and when they first get in. After that, there is no use. We just stayed away, especially after one particular government official. He came to the street once with his thug bodyguard to help clean up the alley with the kids. We had planned to meet with him early to clean the alley and then a trip to the annual fishing day after. He ran hours late, so we stayed long enough to pick up some trash and wait for the press that never came, then got on the waiting bus and went. His people showed up only once in all his time at the community center. There was no help getting any money back for the community center and that is what the kids needed. I recommend the children's book Brundibar to understand children and politics.
The kids participated in the Youthspeak program where youth express their concerns to a panel of politicians. One of the kids who was usually full of bravado, climbed under the chair. I’d say the net gain of something like this was zero for the kids. I know it makes adults feel like they gave kids a voice, makes politicians feel like they did a good thing, but kids from our neighborhood, where everyday was a struggle, having the word senator before your name doesn’t really mean much. No titles mean too much.
COMMUNITY SERVICE/TEEN EMPLOYMENT
There was a time when kids delivered newspapers in Detroit and had jobs at local stores. There are no more kids with paper routes and jobs for teens are few and far between in a city with such high unemployment – adults have taken the jobs. The Summer Jobs Program takes fewer kids every year. The Porch has provided jobs and community service opportunities for youth and learned quite a bit.
When we still had funds to pay older teen assistants, we educated them in play, safety and CPR. The younger kids looked up to them, even openly criticized their job skills and thought that they would have those jobs when they got older. The funding disappeared, the community center closed. A couple of kids turned to the underground economy because there are no other opportunities here. The Porch was it, and we no longer had the funding. It was a beautiful thing to watch kids grow from children learning to read, to be the ones helping little kids read, to see the sense of play we carefully cultivated pay off when they would play games with the younger kids, to see them learn to cook or manage their paychecks. To see them contribute certain recipes from home or use methods with the younger kids their parents used. To see their parents proud of their children gaining responsibility. To see children gain parenting skills from working with the younger kids in a structured environment of the center. Really, priceless. Not all the kids were suited to working with younger kids. These were coveted positions that were given once the adults agreed that a teen was kid-friendly and responsible enough to take on the challenge. At one point, we had just 1 adult volunteer and just one teen. We had especially difficult kids too, to finish homework, cook dinner and play. She was an amazing volunteer. And helping them while finishing homework, cooking dinner and playing was truly a hard task.
I used to spend a lot of time looking for other adults who would take care of encouraging play and childhood. I hadn’t realized that the greatest prospects for this job were the Front Porch kids themselves. They have higher expectations of what a neighborhood should give them and they know to give it to the next generation of children. There also needs to be coordination of matching opportunities with students. Schools need to follow through. There should be one number students and organizations can call or a website where matches can be made.
Community Service and Teens with Jobs
The older kids who were helpful to kids would come up to the center on the younger kids’ day. At some points we gave them jobs – but paying teenagers has, every single time – been a bee’s nest of problems. I will spare you those nightmares, but lets just note that then you are dealing with the kids and their parents, with liability of some teens who no matter how well behaved most of the time, may lash out and punch a kid who is sincerely obnoxious, but an older teen would hold back. So we put the younger teens in a community service race. Whoever got the most hours in the first half of the school year, second half of the school year, and in the summer, would get a gift card or money or a trip or whatever we decided on for that year. Below is a test made up by a younger teen helping a grade schooler read. Look how she even graded it and put I am proud of you at the top of the page!
I think that a gift card and a trip that they choose is the best way to reward them. I enjoyed spending the time with them on those trips – they were the best behaved kids, kids who would appreciate the trip, and helped them bond with peers who were most like themselves. It was understood that once they were 18, they would have the chance to get paid at the center.
When we would have teens aged 18 and up, there was a routine that they followed and a checklist, so the adults there wouldn’t have to always be telling them what to do. The teens would divide up the jobs at the beginning of the after school session.
Reminding them they were almost every day marvelous, hard workers was important. It was not a job like McDonald’s for them. No, it included a heap of emotional labor, patience, help breaking up fights, cooking, doing activities they themselves may have never done and then helping the kids with them. It included walking with them, talking with the kids, helping with homework that sometimes they didn’t understand themselves. They learned parenting skills, how to play and let loose a little if they hadn’t when they were kids and regular job skills like being on time and filling out a time sheet, keeping records etc. I found them much easier to work with than adults because a lot of them came from a Porch background. They didn’t have some of the barriers adults would. On the Porch, you just have to participate. ‘I don’t eat that’, ‘I don’t do that’, or ‘I can’t’ are never accepted and there was always a fierce little woman that would give kids the opportunity to go home if they wanted to stay unadventurous or non-participatory. This became something the kids began to pass down and warn other kids about. Through peer pressure, kids tried sushi, ice skating, and art museums.
There is no comparison to the look in the eyes of thankfulness from families that you have helped. It’s a special gleam that I think is normally for life saving folks, but every once in while, when the barriers for families just keep popping up and you just keep jumping the hurdles and take them with you, they really appreciate it. I think kids doing community service get some of that and they can feel the power of altruism, of doing good, of giving, and they become community participants, not just consumers or takers.
The above is from a group of children who did community service to help the kids on the Porch. And they really did. A local community college partnered with a suburban grade school to collect book bags, books, etc. for our kids. I found this little note inside one of the boxes from the suburban kids. Makes me cry. For all the times I havent been able to find adults to help when I needed, here are these well off grade schoolers ready. There can never be enough community service projects for kids of any age. Teaching children to give, whether they are rich or poor, should be a required part of their education.
Job training at school/jobs
VoTech is excellent, but limited to certain grades. Keep Votech as excellent as it is, but expand it to 9th grade to catch kids before they drop out. Allow 12th graders to take classes. Be sure it can accommodate all the kids who want to be in it. VoTech requires uniforms bought by students. There needs to be a scholarship fund for uniforms, or make a way for outgoing students to sell their uniforms to incoming students.
Behavior is a direct reflection of parenting skills. Very often we have had to deal with parents who wanted minimal engagement in their children’s lives for assorted reasons. We had to find ways to control behavior when, if we called parents, nothing would be reinforced or there would be just a whooping. We had to find ways to address behavior that were immediate and effective coming from essentially, a third party. The only way this could be done was on a child by child basis since every child was coming from a different level of parental engagement and parenting style.
I am always confused as to why parents think they know how to perfectly adjust children’s behavior when they have only had one or two children. They may have gone through years of school, but yet they think with going through all the developmental stages with one child that they are doing it the best way possible? There is also the issue that children act differently in a group than they do at home. How many parents of only children have looked at me sideways when I explain something insane their child did to show off? Parents don’t know this side of their children and most children are cagey enough to hide it as soon as their parent is sighted.
My best predictor of how a child will behave is where they stand in their family. Youngest, oldests and only children have predictable behavior patterns. This has given me a leg up on their actions for years. For some reason, it is crystal clear when kids jump rope. I can watch kids jump rope for about a half hour and tell you who is the only, oldest, middle and youngest. Only children generally have the worst social problems, obviously because they don’t have to deal with siblings. Having older siblings always makes kids more willing to play and just go along with the program, which on the Porch (and in life) is super important so the games can go forward. Oldest children are often the bosses and sometimes, if they are left inappropriately early in charge of younger siblings, are very difficult to manage in a group. I have seen them just walk away, frustrated because they couldn’t run the show. Once they understand that the benefit of not running the show is that they can be a kid and don’t have to have the responsibility, they are very comfortable with letting go. Middle children are funny – often ho hum about things and it’s hard to get them to say what they really want to do. If they are distant in years from other siblings they may act like only children, but if they are only children who grow up with close cousins, they are saved from that path. Youngest children are usually super happy to be included or crying for their way.
Even though there are so many variables that affect behavior, we only been able to include what we have found made the most impact on the kids. Please also see the section on nutrition to understand that the easiest way to improve the quality of life of all children and their behavior, to save adults from their behavioral issues is as simple to give them a good breakfast and lunch and as little sugar as possible. We are not sure why this isn’t a top priority for schools and parents - it’s easy because we’re fully in control of this part of their lives.
One way we had the kids correct their behavior was to explain why their behavior was wrong. Here is one child's explanation of their behavior. This is one of the best ways we have found to deal with behavior changes.
We asked the child to write this note with the threat that it would be given to the girl's mom the next time she used the bad word. She never said it again.
Here is a little essay about wearing a seat belt and cursing. The important part was for the child to say something meaningful about what they had done wrong. We never nit-picked about grammar and spelling because these were always written during free time and when the amount of words required were written with some meaning, they could go play. There is a time and a place for grammar and spelling and essays helping them correct their behavior is not it.
THE SCHOOL SOCIAL WORKER/GUIDANCE COUNSELOR
The school social worker or guidance counselor is equal in importance to the teachers or principals. To overlook this in schools is so very wrong. People who can afford outside intervention for their children (like those clinics for rich kids in Colorado, or a summer at a “special” camp for kids who have issues) need to stop cutting this out of public school budgets . Just because you can’t afford help doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get help. The school social worker may be the only contact a person has in their life with any sort of mental health help. This is to prevent kids having more serious issues in the future. It should be a cornerstone of the American educational system, along with advocacy is to support children as whole beings that we as a community are caring for and meeting their needs. This emotional labor is undervalued mainly because it is associated with women. Think of how quickly some robotics programs are funded versus the merciless cutting of school social services.The emotional labor is associated with women and therefore the roles of social worker and guidance counselor are undervalued and robotics is associated with male occupations that are overvalued. By choosing to not fund necessities of life for children based on sexist foundations, we do both future women and men a disservice. Emotional guidance is essential for some children to succeed at school. To overlook this is beyond foolish.
We have come to understand that a student may talk to a social worker once informally, and then parents must sign a slip for regular appointments. Many parents don’t sign for many reasons. We suggest that this slip be signed by all parents upon registration to school, so that the slip is not just in times of trouble. A mom is not going to sign the slip when her boyfriend is beating the kids. But if you encourage her to sign the slip at the beginning of the year on neutral territory, then when bad things happen, kids are free to get the help parents are reluctant to reach for.
In the African American culture, social workers are called “the people”. They are seen as a part of a system that steals children. They are part of a white system, which steals children from their homes, from their African American home. Agree or not, there is a reluctance of African Americans to involve “the people” in the lives of children. Part of this fear is founded on horror stories from a broken foster care system, and this is a real fear. While there are many good, kind, wonderful foster parents, this is not always the case. And sometimes it’s the whole process or system that doesn’t work. Even sometimes when kinship care happens, it is just to the most money grubbing family members. Yes, people will steal the money the state gives to buy a child groceries and let that child beg to the neighbors for food and the money is used to pay a new car note. This doesn’t mean that money should be taken away from social services. It means there should be more money for checking up on foster children.
Changing the culture of seeing social workers as “the people” is not so difficult. With paraprofessional advocates who come from the same neighborhood as the kids and who are the link to the social worker, and with the addition of voluntary boarding schools for kids who have parents who love them, but whose lives are not together, there can be an establishment of trust. Until then, neighborhood ladies with meager resources take up where the people leave off.
NOT BEING IN SCHOOL – BEHAVIORAL CHOICES
Kids who misbehave are excluded from school, giving them lots of free time out of school, and putting them behind on class work. Exclusion is just school mandated truancy. Truancy is the gateway crime that leads to worse offenses. Why encourage this?
Solution: In house detention with tutoring and counseling. Lots of kids who misbehave are also not doing well academically or have issues at home. Why not take care of all of it at once?
Truancy is known to be the gateway crime for kids. In Detroit, there was truancy project that came and went. Inconsistency of these kinds of programs is so damaging to kids. They need discipline and consistency, especially when it is in rule enforcement. This does not happen for the kids in Detroit. Kids in middle and high school are able to come and go out of school and classes as they please. Security and hall monitoring is lax, consequences of skipping are null. There should be effective hall monitors and security.
Heighten consequences. Tighten rules on how many times students can skip, be sure these are being enforced at every school, especially at high schools.
Teachable/reachable moments: the police stations/juvenile court
Police stations and court waiting rooms are the perfect environment to provide more help to youth who have now proved they have some issues that need to be addressed ASAP. There should be a social worker at each police precinct 24 hours/day who visits each juvenile. Although this may be a little evil on my part, I know that parents are more scared of social workers digging around in their lives than judges. This may even act as a deterrent for the children of parents who feel that way. In another respect, I have heard parents say they asked for help for their child and didn’t get it from school or the court etc. If the social worker is there and can make a plan that is followed through with, then this complaint would disappear.
There should also be a “Parent Helper” at the juvenile court waiting room – this person is like a mix of a librarian and a social worker to find the resources a parent needs, given to them and followed up on. This may be a book or a DVD (perhaps linked to the public library), a pamphlet, a place to go/appointment/transportation voucher for the help needed. In the waiting room, DVDs should run about how to parent teens mixed with DVDs done by teens (like the Mix It Up videos by PBS) explaining dealing with peer pressure etc. Those could be made at schools across the country and broadcast in the waiting rooms. This could even be a dedicated channel that could be running in juvenile court waiting rooms across the country. The Parent Helper would also keep track of the types of help parents are asking for statistical reasons to be able to tell the court and the city what services are lacking.
At school, all children from middle school on up should be given a once a year workshop on their rights if they are stopped by the police. This is essential for a fair and just juvenile justice system.
Give parents, judges, teachers and principals the chance to give youth an Advocate at school. The are trained and supervised adults who visit them at school. A more detailed description is available in Chapter 3. One time, when we went to court with one of the kids, the judge asked us if there was room for more kids in our program. She may have been impressed that in between car theft incidents, the young man was volunteering in the summer program. We don't have the financial capacity to take more juvenile kids like that. I was so sad to say that. If you would like to fund advocates for these children, just let us know. We would love to work with the justice system to help kids make good choices when they go back to their neighborhoods.
Balanced and Restorative Justice
A shift to Balanced and Restorative Justice would be a good change for the community. Institute Balanced and Restorative Justice for juvenile offenders in Detroit. This type of justice will work in Detroit because of the very forgiving culture of Detroiters. It was already implemented in Wayne County.
Bike theft is usually the first experience of major theft for kids. It’s not seriously addressed from a victim or perpetrator standpoint. We have seen this be the first step toward car theft. Bikes should be IDed, police or other programs should make an effort to recover stolen bikes. They should have a social worker visit child who is perpetrator and make perpetrator apologize to victim and restore justice. (BARJ)
This is a rite of passage in our neighborhood, spread through generations of kids in local middle and high schools. Car thieves were often bike thieves to start, and before that, victims of bike theft. The solution is first, to take action against bike theft (above). Also, police/convicted car thieves who are incarcerated need to come to school to talk about it to 5th graders and explain the consequences. There needs to be some peer deterrent for the kids who do steal cars.
Walking to and from the community center also allowed us more interaction with parents because the walking bus would take the child right to their house. If there was a problem that evening, we could speak directly with their parents. Sometimes, I would hold off on the discipline talk until we were in front of their house. This kept the child calmer at the center after whatever incident, and if kids were angry, they would try to run home sometimes, which was forbidden. Rarely would parents come to pick up kids with behavior problems, so we adjusted to figure out how to balance showing the other kids that the other kids’ behavior was unacceptable but then keeping the kid in trouble calm enough to make it through the rest of the evening.
We modified behavior several ways. Some punishments were: Time off, cleaning up after everyone else after eating, and writing about why their behavior was unacceptable. We tried hard to not give them the time off. Kids who have problems don’t need to go back home into the environment that made them into the fighting monster they were, but sometimes there was no other choice for adults’ sanity and to scare the other kids off and teach them that unacceptable behavior doesn’t go well in a group. Writing was the best because they had to explain why they were wrong which is crucial.
Here is an example of what one kid wrote, pointing out where I failed to intervene to stop the escalation. It’s amazing when kids have the chance to fully express themselves, what adults can learn from them. He had to write a certain amount of words, so you may find it repetitive. He is also very smart and funny, so there is some tongue-in-cheek when he starts preaching at the end about bullying.
“Why people should not fight. Fighting is very wrong and not nice to do. Let me tell you something that happened to me it was yesterday. It was 1/9/08. It was this boy he kept talking all that junk to me and my friend on the low but you didn’t see him but you saw us. And when he was playing in the States game and he was talking junk. So I told you but you just looked at him. So when we was playing Pit my sister said whoever get the most cards win. So I got all the cards and he tried to grab them from me so I jump at him and he hit me in my face so I up and hit him in face as he charged at me. Fighting is wrong for people to do that is not the way to solve your problems and when you grow up you can go to jail for that. God didn’t put us on Earth to fight or to try to kill someone. He put us on the earth to love one another and to care for someone else. People I’m telling you to please not fight or bully someone else. Bullying is wrong and people should not do it. If you bully someone that means you are a coward and have no home training. Imagine if someone bullies you.” A masterpiece from a kid who fought often and fierce from his football training background. Almost every physical fight I have ever broken up was from boys who were in football. Needless to say, after having been dragged around the community center in the middle of a fight, I have grown to despise youth football. I am a little, strong determined woman, but enough is enough.
We also tried this punishment: write X amount of times: I will not call people names because everyone has a right to be happy.
WHY AREN'T PARENTS ENGAGED?
In Detroit there are so many reasons and so many levels that the most important thing to understand is that first you have to know why individual parents aren’t engaged.
1. How parents have been treated by school staff. Having advocated for kids, not all teachers are respectful, some have been downright infuriating. This, for a parent who does not have the means to move, and neither the skill set neither of conflict resolution nor the skill set of complaining up the ladder to get a teacher fired, flat out discourages them. They have to send their child to school, and some just withdrew. And while you can sit there and say how, I can tell you that if you were attended those same schools and were treated disrespectfully about your education, were not successful in that education, and maybe have some addiction problem; there is no way you could deal with it. Some parents just move to a different school hoping for some better treatment, but they move with the same resolution skill set, which means they will encounter the same issues over and over without resolve.
2. There is a generational issue in Detroit. Parents who did not get a good education at DPS cannot pass down the need for a good education to their children. They half heartedly send their children to a place that for some of them was a nightmare. They need help in how to advocate for their children and to be able to better their reading and math skills so they can help their children. Some parents are young and don’t have the older guidance many people from previous generations had. Many are young single parents with little outside family support and little hope for their own future. It is unreasonable and downright silly to criticize what is now a couple of generations of people for their parenting/educational skills when they were not taught themselves. Yes, this means intervening and picking Detroiters up is more difficult. But it is certainly not impossible. All those parents want better for their children, but they just don’t know how to get it. Please read the section on advocacy to understand how other adults can intervene and help.
3. There are rare cases where parents really don’t care. Outside of addiction and mental health problems, there are bad parents. But there are just as many really bad parents in Detroit as there are anywhere.
What people see is a generational effect mixed with poverty and a bad school system and poorly run city. This mixes up to provide the illusion that Detroit parents don’t care for their kids. This is not true.
ADOLESCENCE IN THE CITY
Old School Discipline Meets Modern Teens
Her grandmother sat across the room on the couch frustrated. She just couldn’t understand kids these days. Why did her granddaughter want to be out past 10 pm? Why was she acting so rebellious and disrespectful? After an hour of discussion, things had calmed down. Her granddaughter wanted to run away, stay at a friend’s house...away from these too strict rules. She was sitting on the other couch, staring at her grandma, wondering where she would go. Would she house hop? But that involved sex for money? Her brother, would he let her stay at his apartment, but she really didn’t get along with his baby mama. Once the discussion was done, she thought she’d stay home another day before leaving. That program the mediator mentioned didn’t sound so good. It was too far away. Strangers. Maybe they had worked things out a little…
The traditional whopping is still alive and well in Detroit. Parents are often shocked to find out that if they whoop their children when they are young, it doesn't work so well when they are teens, and are almost always hit back. In every high school, it should be required for parents to come to a workshop to learn alternative teen discipline and just how, in general to deal with teenagers (and this should be for ALL parents in the country). I tell parents that teens are like elderly Alzheimer's patients. They don't remember anything, they aren't who they used to be, and if you expect them to be, you are just going to be angrier and more disappointed every single day of their adolescence. For girls it starts it the deep dark scary year of 13. Some girls start earlier and some later. Moms who get wrapped up in fighting at this age will not recover quickly. When there are many other pressures (like poverty) this will set up a pattern of fighting where a girl will run away. Hopefully it is to a family member's house, but I have seen them just disappear. I do not know for sure (and maybe I don't want to know) if they have disappeared into Detroit's robust underworld of prostitution. For boys it starts a little later, and usually at about 17 it is at its worst. For all the court costs of incorrigibility and the other crimes that are committed because parents of adolescents are just bewildered that a whopping doesnt work anymore and they are asking who is this kid I raised...required workshops on adolescence is a small price to pay for a change in mindset.
As an aside, whooping comes from slavery. It comes from the white people who were slave owners/bosses who were from white herding cultures which are generally more violent than agricultural cultures. (See the book The Outliers by by Macolm Caldwell, P 167) So many African American and white people from the South hold this belief in whooping and look down on people (African American and white) who do not believe in whopping their kids fearing they will turn out bad. Sit in a courtroom with teenagers and see if the whoopings worked on them. They don't. They don't care anymore and realize they are big enough to beat parents back.
Homeless teens in Detroit are not under bridges and overpasses. Sometimes they end up at shelters. For the most part, they are staying at someone’s house. Maybe it is a very good friend with a kind family or maybe it is in exchange for sex or babysitting or whatever money they have however they can make it. Detroit is a community in this sense, and a ruthless place to be homeless in another sense. Detroit (and everywhere there are teens) needs weekend or overnight respite shelters in every neighborhood for teens to go for a break from the often serious disagreements that arise from this very difficult developmental time. We need 24-hour family mediators for teenagers and their parents who will come out to do emergency house visits like an EMS. Modern adolescent development is at odds with old school child-rearing practices and results in many unnecessary incorrigibility court proceedings and more complicated issues such as running away. Detroit needs to work with High/Scope Adolescent Development and Common Ground Sanctuary to develop this program. It could be advertised on unused bus ad slots and at middle and high schools.
When we have tried to get kids into shelters and independent living programs, they are always full. For kids have had it, this phone call is the worst. They end up with whatever family member will take them without the extra supports given at these programs. These need to be funded with much more money. They need to just come and pick these kids up and take them when they are open to getting help.
A school for pregnant and parenting teen girls, but none for boys? Why aren’t there required programs for pregnant and parenting teens at each high school? There are some fine teen fathers out there who would use the information in parenting classes and there are some not so good ones who could use a little help. Either way, they shouldn’t be overlooked.
Girls who have pregnant teen sisters, from my observation, should have emergency intervention sex ed. Girls who get pregnant very early (middle school – first year of high school) are possibly victims of sexual abuse at home to be sexually active that early. That teen pregnancies “run in the family” may not just be mimicking, or just seen as normal, but may be that an abuser lurks throughout/within the family.
While it’s great that there’s a school for pregnant teens at all, there should also be the opportunity for teens to stay at the high school they were at with a day care either at the school or within walking distance that is in partnership with the school. Those teens should be in the child development class that most schools already offer, along with another class specifically on parenting for teens or a mandatory after school program for them that includes a lesson on birth control. From my observation of conversations teens have had about sex with the sex educators and things I have unfortunately heard from kids, just because a girl gets pregnant it doesn’t mean she knows anything about her own
body, about sex, about birth control, or even why she got pregnant (same goes for boys). They live with a lot of misinformation, unsafe sex due to myths and lack of access to free birth control. It is simple to clear up with maybe 2 hours of sex education, a $15 book so they have something to read if they forget, and a source of free condoms and advice at or within walking distance from school. It’s so little to prevent such huge problems for these poor kids and adults are NOT providing it.
From my observations, many urban teens smoke weed to relax from stress. Adults are not teaching them alternative ways to deal with it and so they are taking the only option they have. We had one “dealing with stress” day. One of the neighborhood moms was a masseuse and she had a great packet of worksheets about dealing with stress. They had sheets like checking off boxes of things that were regular stressors and making a plan on how to deal with stress differently or better than they do now. The kids got lavender incense to take home, a 10 minute back massage, and some other items for stress relief. Teenagers need this. Stress management is an integral part of becoming a healthy adult.
For the teens, we also had “quiet time”, which was actually meditation time. (Meditation is taught…in some public elementary schools where, some studies show, it boost concentration and harmony and even improves grades...” The Scientific American Brave New Brain by Judith Horstman, John Wiley and Sons, P 33 ) Once the kids were settled and before homework time, we dimmed the lights and had time for them to just be quiet for 5 or 10 minutes. Many youth do not have this luxury at home. If they live in a house with extended family, quiet time is precious and rare. A lot of kids didn’t know what to do in the quiet or would be irritated that we were doing it. It was great for them. It changed the whole tone of the after school session. “one of the best things we can do with kids from kindergarten on up is to show them breathing exercises. These engage the parasympathetic nervous system; this slows things down, relieves anxiety, and helps with focus….Breathing helps restrain neurons that control fight-flight response. It’s all about calming down the body and the brain. We know kids need to have their bodies eat the right things. We can also help them learn to master emotions.” ( The Scientific American Brave New Brain by Judith Horstman, John Wiley and Sons p 51-52)
We also started playing low classical music during homework time. The kids, again, were angry at first, but got used to it. It made the atmosphere in the room much more pleasant. After homework time, the kids could always put on the radio to almost anything they wanted, so they were fine with that odd music for a short time.
High Scope, a research organization, had a teen youth development section. What a marvelous experience, the 4 day retreat was for the kids with the other kids groups. The Institute for Ideas gave kids who were naturally more academic from the neighborhood the chance to go away for a month with other academically geared youth. They had a wonderful time without TV, with group meals and learning so much. It certainly wasn’t a place for troubled kids or kids, who had no structure, but it was a place for kids whose families didn’t have the money but had intellectual children. There are kids now I would love to send to that but it doesn't exist anymore.
DEALING WITH PARENT’S ISSUES
There is one mom in the neighborhood who is so, so funny. If I was in high school, I would sit at her lunch table. She loves her kids and they are generally honest and good hearted. However, she has an addiction problem. Every year of their lives has gaps, when she went into rehab, when she came out, when she was using at home. This can be reflected in their report cards. They would be miserable in foster care, but they need structure she is in no way giving them. They are just like many kids who are economically advantaged may have parents that disappear to rehab for months on end but maybe is replaced with a nanny or an aunt. What would happen if rich kids’ parents don’t go to rehab, are just there day in and day out, not being parents but instead being addicts? The saddest part is that many addicts do love their children, and they are often fun interesting smart people who just have a problem. Addiction wreaks havoc on a child’s’ life, particularly when it comes to a daily schedule. Kids whose parents are addicts need to be able to enroll in a boarding school where they can have regular homework time and meals that is not available at home. At the very least, at school there should be a class or time with a counselor to talk about the problems that addictions causes children.
My dad is in the Harlem Globetrotters. He’s in Iraq. He’s down south. No, he’s in jail. I have heard every kind of thing. Sometimes kids act worse when parents come out, some when they go in, but this affects so many kids in this area. This is not addressed anywhere at all. Most kids need a mentor, uncle, older cousin to fill in that spot ASAP as the parent goes in. They need time to write letters, free stamps, trips for families to prisons, and a frequent workshop at school in dealing with feelings about it.
DEALING WITH GRIEF FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS
One of the Front Porch kids went to prison. She was with us for a few years, moved away. She had moved here soon after her mother died and she was in the custody of a relative, who was also chronically ill. There was a lot of anger in her from the grief of the loss of a mother she loved dearly. Her father was still in her life sometimes. Sometimes kids explain their situation with “you wouldn’t believe the stuff I've been through”. She clearly, desperately needed grief counseling. She had already violently lashed out at a kid at school. I asked in her family, no one was taking her to grief counseling (you see, no one in the family was going to get the help they needed and weren’t going to take her to get something they themselves weren’t ready for, or understood the importance of. It wasn’t because they didn’t care). I tried to take her to the free grief group at the local hospital. The woman who ran the group (and here I would like to drop a name because I am still and will forever be angry) treated me like something was wrong with me. If I wasn’t in her family, why would I want to bring her to a grief group? She said I couldn’t bring her. Yup lady, that is one girl in women’s prison that is particularly your fault. She was a great fun kid who needed help but in the end did something serious and ended up in prison. I always had a feeling more awful things were happening to her, but I could never pin it down. She went back and forth from her aunties to her dad’s in the suburbs and after she moved away for good - she had come back once and she had said the school counselor wanted her to go to regular counseling, but she didn’t. Again, mental health services should be offered right at school. There was no support to make her go, no adult to check the time and see when the appointment was to drive her anywhere. I wished there was more we could have done for her. Once kids moved, they didn’t call and there is no good public transport to get back. Below is a pair of glitter wings she made.
Grief is the root of a lot of angry kids. Losing a parent or older brother/sister can emotionally cripple kids. SO rarely is this addressed by adults. Adults nearby are often dealing with their own grief and kids are frequently left alone to figure out how to let it out. Often that is through violence. In school counseling or after school program counseling is the best plan of action. It needs to be something the kids and parents can access without driving to a separate appointment. In Detroit, most kids will just not get there.
CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
One of the older kids told me her teen sister could not be picked up by the man who usually picked all the kids up – their mom’s boyfriend. She seemed deadly serious. I called her mom and she didn’t pick up. So I just didn’t let the teen get in the van at the end of the day. The man cussed me out, and as I walked all the kids home, he drove along side us, threatening me. I do not know how we got home. All I know is that in the end, the boyfriend finally went away and their mom took them to counseling. I have had suspicions about girls who seem “fast” or oddly withdrawn at an early age, but that’s the thing about sexual abuse. For adults, it just has to be a gut feeling unless you live in the house. The signs of child abuse, the ones that an after school provider could see, are symptoms of so many different things. In Detroit there is no one talking to the kids in a preventative fashion. There is no one going to talk to groups of kids about how to tell if they are experiencing it. There are plenty of videos and books teachers could use. But this doesn’t seem to be a priority. Then, once the door is open, to what non-existent social workers? Some schools have a part time one. If they were to start a program like that, they would have to budget in an army of social workers for what would surface. And boys – I suspect that in the gangster world, there is something going on, maybe leaked out of jail into neighborhoods. I don’t think boys are safe from the onslaught of abuse. I’ve met boys who had been rescued from abuse. How did they let people know it was happening? Their behavior was just atrocious. Just angry all the time. How many boys in Detroit fit that? But again, there is no one “tell” for the after school provider. There needs to be the openness at school for them to be able to talk about it. It needs to be a change in culture. Often, I think in the African American community, the fear of a system that is racist (like social work/foster care system is perceived and often actually is) overrides any of the good it would do in calling. They are not seen as help, but as enemies, child snatchers, and unfortunately, in many cases, children face abuse in these broken systems as well.
This subject should be part of a regularly scheduled workshop or class. It could be paired with other topics, but it needs to be made into an issue the kids feel comfortable enough to speak out about, with time directly after to speak one-on-one with a social worker.
“In 1996, amid intense debate over welfare reform, Joe Klein revealed in his Newsweek column the ‘secret truth’ that the majority of unmarried pregnant teenagers were not ‘just amoral, premature tarts’ but victims of child abuse by older men...Actually this ‘truth’ was no ‘secret’; long known to welfare experts and advocates, it had not reached wide public awareness because of what Klein himself called the ‘prevailing mythologies about teen pregnancy”. (Slaying the Mermaid: Women and the Culture of Sacrifice by Stephanie Golden,1998, Random House, NY p 230)
The importance of friendship coaching cannot be emphasized enough. Children who do not know how to play lack social skills. If they are neglected or abused, they lack social skills. I think often, kids who grow up in an urban setting, being just closer to more children have some advantage in this area. But then there are also more conflicts. People are always talking about needing to teach children conflict resolution, but the foundation of that is friendship skills and manners. Without these you cannot resolve conflict. If you are lucky, it is your brothers, sisters and cousins who coached you in friendship, but not every kid has socially skilled siblings/family nearby. It is a simple intervention to just having an adult who is skilled at playing and identifying play issues. I know this sounds not serious, but it is very serious. It is the root of bullying, of isolation and it is the social skills they go into middle school with. There is a set of rules to behaving in a group and once kids get a few basic things down (like upon entering a group, not immediately trying to take over), children will have an easier time in any social situation. Many are not learning to play, the primary place to learn social skills. They should be taught to play games at recess, in gym, or in class (educational games) and their behavior monitored or corrected. Kids do not have social rules so etiquette should be taught.
Disagreements should be mediated and mediation should also be taught, with mini-Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ), where victims and perpetrators work toward a repairing harm to the victim and rebuilding relationships in the community so that victimized youth are cared for and perpetrators have real accountability.
The real test for kids in their relationship was one particularly relationship building exercise that is not one of those engineered “new” games. Making it out of a corn maze is a feat of relationship. We actually should have some sort of workshop for the adults who lead the groups through this. The kids love this.
Through the years, playing has been a constant on the porch. Whether it is after tutoring, during tutoring with educational games, on the street, or waiting for the bus, we try to play all the time. Why? There are so many reasons for kids to play, especially these days. When I say play, I don’t mean in front of a screen. I mean interacting with other children directly. One day one of the children who was not afraid to use her imagination was talking on an imaginary phone. Another girl who never used her imagination was on the Porch with her, looking at her like she was crazy. I took the imaginary phone from the first child and pretended the imaginary friend was talking about the girl with no imagination. The girl with no imagination took the imaginary phone from me and told that imaginary girl off. Play is so important to becoming a well balanced and happy grown-up.
Most of our communication comes from our body language and through play children learn how to communicate, social rules, even some manners are transmitted though play. Even our culture comes through the games older kids pass down. This heritage is at best weak, and many of the children who are left dangling in front of a TV screen are asking for problems later. In the Porch neighborhood, this wasn’t so much a concern because those games are expensive. The Porch neighborhood is generally more social than most suburban neighborhoods, as Detroit culture and African American culture both tend more toward interaction than towards keeping to yourself (with the exception of one type of teenage girl in Detroit who just stays in the house all the time). In this way, Porch kids will forever be richer than suburban kids in at least this one respect. We tried to make our emphasis on play more formal by having a play training with the teens who were working for us.
One of the teens had been in the program from when she was small. She was 16, sitting through the training and answered every question right and light bulbs went off in her head connecting what she did as a kid and why it was part of the program and how important playing was. The training involved learning what is listed below, watching parts of the Promise of Play and learning how to play the games in the games cabinet. This section is full of quotes because there are plenty of people who can tell you better than I about why and how play is important.
What is play?
Play is defined by “these unique features: it is intrinsically motivated and self initiated, process oriented, non-literal and pleasurable, exploratory and active, and rule governed” These features make play both a process and a product. As a process, play facilitates individual understanding of skills, concepts and dispositions: as a product, play provides the vehicle for children to demonstrate what understanding of skills, concepts and disposition." (Packer, Isenberg, Joan and Quisenberry, Nancy. 2002, Fall Play: Essential for All Children, Childhood Education, v79 I 1 p 33(7))
Why do children play?
To develop creativity and imagination, do better at school, promote positive emotional states, reduce stress, for their brain development, build social skills, experience independence, learn the boundaries of risk, the benefit of parents through making a better neighborhood.
On the Porch, the kids who don’t know how to play – boys fight and girls talk about each other and fight. It’s that simple, if kids do not know anything positive to interact with other kids, they will fight. If they have a list in their head of games to play, they will play. These behavior is symptomatic of the absence of knowledge of those games. Also, depending on how old the kids, how long they have been interacting without games, the behavior is harder to reverse, but not impossible. I have seen 18 year olds who were play deprived deeply involved in a board game up at the center – sometimes more than the little kids they are with. The longer they haven’t played, the worse their conflict resolution skills will be, so the more important there is an older teen or adult there to teach that kid how to mediate the conflict. When kids take things too seriously in games I always first figure if they are only children or spaced far enough from their siblings to be an only child, or were they play deprived when they were younger. Only children have a lot of simple tells, without even asking. Above all other things, this determines their play behavior. After watching hundreds of children I rely on this more than any other indicator of behavior to help me understand. Only children will frequently barge into the game or be the complete shrinking violet. Middle kids will have more ambiguous problems and youngest will do anything (which is sometimes dangerous) and just want to be included. They are often prone to cry more than middles or oldests. So as an adult my reactions are different. When an oldest or middle cries, I take it a little more serious. A youngest or only will have to tough it out. Usually, that slows up the crying within a couple weeks, and makes them more socially skilled. Sometimes play coaching, is teaching kids how to enter a group – watch them play for a while, ask if you can play and do whatever they. I teach them to watch other kids and then do what they are doing. Don’t try right away to lead the group. There is one girl who I worked really intensely with and she always smiles when she says, “I have a lot of friends because Jean helped me." It was true because kids at her school knew that I knew her. When she was absent a lot they asked where she was in the most concerned way. It was lovely to give the gift of friendship. How many more kids need that? It made her entire life different because there was nothing she wanted more than friends. I think most children do. Friendship coaching should be a regular part of school. (See Rooftop School's part of the video, The Promise of Play, The Heart of the Matter, Episode 3)This would also ease up the teacher’s burden of conflict resolution. When kids can’t play they sometimes take inappropriate risks.
I won’t go too much into this, but the importance of adults in children’s play is three-fold – 1. conflict resolution 2. supplies for play 3. to play with them. If its free time and you choose to participate, you need to change your mind. Drift over to the right side of your brain and be prepared to be bossed. Depending on the kid is whether I will agree to it. Whether or not I will agree to play depends on the child. If they are an only child or just an all around bossy kid, I will stand up to them for my play ideas to teach them how to play better. For kids who live oppressed by bossy kids in their lives I will indulge them in playtime where they are the boss. Its is surprising how many time I have had to lead kids into an imaginary world. I will ask “Well, if we are on a boat, where are we going?” because many kids now can’t create a story for themselves. It takes a few times for them to get it, especially if they haven’t been read to a lot of played with in the imaginary sense.
Here is another adult's example. “A geography professor played the part of a caveman at a children’s museum exhibit and observed, 'I was part of the play of children and their trust enfolded me in an enticing and carefree sense of belonging. It was as if my doing nothing of any great important, we were doing the most important thing that the particular moment could enable'." (Aitkin, Stuart, Playing With Children: Immediacy Was Their Cry. The Geographical review 91 (1-2): 497) When we allow children to imagine freely with adults, they simply reverse the power relationship and insist they be in charge." (Sutton-Smith, Ambiguity of Play, 172) Some adults think they have to be so grown up around kids. Nothing could be further from the truth (except in cases where discipline is called for). “The quality of children’s lives can improve if they can observe playfulness in adults, as playfulness can determine one’s attitude toward life” (Erikson, 1972)
Whilst bullying is all the rage – bullying prevention takes a million different forms. But after years of bullies, they are usually kids who at home, are bullied by someone there. Bullies are the kids who hurt the most and should be considered strongly for counseling, not punishment. The core of a bully is their home life and the inability to play with other kids effectively. It should be addressed as counseling and play coach issue. Punishing these kids (aside from the sake of showing the group it is unacceptable) is not only a waste of time but makes one angry kid angrier. Maybe they can’t understand facial expressions correctly or exaggerate the effects of acts on them and this leads them to retaliate to an slight perceived but never given. As well, the bullied are often kids that don’t play well with others and need play counseling too. This is just a car crash of two children who are not getting the support they need from the adults around them. “Play deprivation raises human beings who are isolates who crash into each other through shooting or emotional violence." (Promise of Play video, Episode 1) This behavior of the bullies and the bullied is usually seen early in their lives. Rarely have I seen a spontaneous bully, unless it’s a kid who has had a dramatic change (improperly handled divorce, parent death) and is not in counseling . When there are news reports of high school bully violence, I just look to the adults around those kids, particularly the staff at the schools they are at, and wonder why they didn’t help correct it so many years ago. How often have I heard, “But I told you and you didn’t stop him” before a fight broke out at me and other adults. Most of us are guilty. The signs, the simmering, the sometimes secret ways kids attack each other – something is always showing at least it’s shadow. We think we don’t have time, or it’s petty, when its not. It's children asserting their right to live in peace, it's children looking for help, it's children lashing out for something wrong at home. It takes a lot of self discipline, on an adult’s part to pay attention and address this. While this is in part a parents fault, the actual symptoms usually show themselves in group behavior. How many times have I heard parents shocked at how their child acts in a group? At home children act differently than in a group. Parents have to accept this, and teachers and school staff who see this must correct it at its first signs, usually in grade school. You are lying to me if you think this is different. You are lying to yourself and other people so much that your pants are on fire.
Etiquette - Bullying - Conflict Link
Children are not being taught manners. This is adding to this crisis. As children learn to be social, there are no longer rules. Then adults scratch their heads ask why kids are in conflicts all the time over the littlest things. Any school that wants to prevent bullying will institute etiquette classes. How can we be perplexed at children who have no social skills when they do not have any rules? I am not talking about which fork here, I am talking about saying excuse me or how to use doors correctly. It would just take a couple of workshops to change the culture of a small school. The Mind your Manners game is still good for younger kids.
GROWING UP/SEX/RELATIONSHIP EDUCATION
Our first sex education seminar was in a kind board member/neighbor’s backyard on a hot summer day. Somehow I corralled all the kids back there. A very kind man from the health dept’s education program who understood that while backyard sex ed was unorthodox, it would work. He came and sat on a stool while the kids sat on the grass. Kids pulled him to the side after to ask questions they didn’t want to ask in front of the group. I’ll never forget one little kid, who under no circumstance was leaving the backyard even though he was much too young to be there. When the educator described one disease, the little boy laughed and said aloud to his friend, “Hey, didn’t my brother have that?” Oh Dear! The educator had the gift to smooth over every embarrassing situation and make the kids at ease. The educator went on to educate in Africa and back again to Detroit. The kids were full of questions. He reappeared years later and came and talked with the kids. I discovered that later he was shot multiple times in Detroit and killed. Another unsolved murder in Detroit of a enormously kind man who saved a lot of kids’ lives through his gift for talking about this difficult subject, patiently and tactfully answering questions that would have been impossible for most adults to string the words together to explain. A couple of times, the kids were spoken to about STDs and safe sex. Condoms were another cup of tea. Sex educators were skimpy with the condoms and we don’t know why. At times I knew we should be giving them out, but we didn’t have the budget for it, nor enough individual donations to pay for them. Condoms are expensive; there are no two ways about it. At the local drug stores, they are locked up. It seems a shame to stop youth from stealing something that would protect them from diseases, doesn’t it? I’ve heard that they give them out at the local city health center, and even if that is true, that is $.75 to $1.50 each way for a youth to get there. The questions kids would ask were astonishing. It showed how very little they knew about reproduction and when boys would ask questions, it showed that was really going on behind closed doors with girls was horrifying. I can only figure adults are shutting their eyes to these obvious issues. Another good sex ed session was when the peer educators came from another group and teens explained safe sex with the help of a trained adult. Then they played games like sex trivial pursuit with the kids. Even just a circle discussion was invaluable to kids. We also started to give out a permission slip to kids to get a book on sex, a brochure on sexually transmitted infections and their symptoms. We also give out books for younger kids about their changing bodies. We made movies one day where kids had to role play getting pregnant or testing positive for HIV and telling their partners/friends/families. That was exceptional. Also, when we go to the library, the sex ed books are pointed out and included on treasure hunts. The Sxetc. Publications from Rutgers University were good for discussions and the sxetc.org website is one I show teens because it answers their questions without them having to ask anyone. There was also a project through the local children’s hospital that was not so understanding. The community center would not allow us to use a closed in office for HIV testing, so I suggested a car. This also opened the door for kids who would never go to the center, but would be on the street. The hospital and the rougher kids reluctantly did it, but the hospital would never come back. The kids were supposed to go down to the hospital to get results. I think they said even a taxi would come get them. But that is not understanding Detroit. Those kids never went to get the results. It had to be immediate while you still had those children in your clutches in order for the program to work. It was also a good opportunity for the kids to have one-on-one education and the chance to ask questions in private. Those kids were the kids that program was intended to reach but the hospital was not willing to conform to the method of outreach that worked. They said it was dangerous. I am not sure how. I had known the teens since they were kids and I stood on the Porch to be sure everything went ok for both groups. WHAT EVER! I could never figure out how to give out condoms anyway. They are so expensive that I know kids would sell them. And if they were free, they wouldn’t be given any respect. I think that a subsidized condom is a good idea for youth. It’s sad that the peer educators and their free condoms were not allowed on school grounds. It’s sad for all the kids who now have sexually transmitted infections and babies due to that rule. It’s sad there is not a nurse there to give condoms out and to educate them often on the subject. Another interesting sex ed tactic, is that if there are kids adults feel are not so much at risk (maybe their parents have educated them, they are goal oriented or they have an uncommon wisdom for their age) it is important to educate them about educating other kids. They can save other kid’s lives. They just need the right education about it and a book/pamphlets to keep as reference or to lend out. The local shelter for girls had peer educators and the kids we worked with found them invaluable. Even college kids are great so teens feel more equal with them and more comfortable to talk about the subject.
Kids need a time to talk about relationships. Romantic partners need to be taught how to treat each other. With so many bad adult relationships as examples, children need the chance to talk about, role play, and learn words to describe their feelings about relationships. We had ballroom dance lessons for the kids. One kid, who I was pretty sure had sex with one girl, could NOT HOLD HER HAND TO DANCE. Chew on that. They can have sex but not hold hands. I told him if you can do her, you can dance with her. Ballroom dance lessons are priceless for tweens. Even with one workshop so much changes for the whole relationship of boys and girls. It changes them individually too – they are getting a life skill, exercising parts of their brain they may have not used before, learning to be respectful – not just to their partner, but to the others on the dance floor. It is a chance for some kids who may be shy to come out of their shell a bit. Maybe they aren’t good at anything in this area, but they can dance. It’s good exercise. It is in a lot of ways, life changing for kids. It was especially good when two of the older teen helpers were dance partners and they were examples of maturity on the dance floor. It also teaches kids a bit about how to touch the opposite sex (or the same if gay kids wanted to dance together), not just grope. To be a little romantic. To kids without involved parents, learning to be thoughtful, considerate and romantic is not a lesson they learn anywhere. But in ballroom, these are necessary ingredients to not embarrassing yourself in front of a group, a tween and teen’s daily mission. This should be at least one semester of physical fitness for kids, combined first with hygiene class.
Growing Up Resources
On the whole, the main observation I have made is that children want to talk, not listen. To act, not watch a play. To dance, not watch a performance. To play a musical instrument, not listen to an orchestra. To read aloud, not listen to adults read to them. Children are starving for the chance to express themselves. To have their voices be heard, to be creative. Once children are made to feel comfortable and safe through a few simple rules and supportive adults, they want to participate, not observe. How many times have I told people, do not bring a speaker in! Give children something to do where they will take a skill with them, not someone else’s words. Let them ask questions and follow their interests. They don’t really care so much for what you are trying to teach them. An astute observer of our style of getting information across explained that we were following a more Reggio-Emilio style of teaching. It is regrettable that this style of teaching isn’t applied in Detroit, where children, if left to their own, fiercely independent way of thinking, could experience this sort of learning that suits them; instead of trying to fit them into a learning pedagogy that fits them as well as a glass slipper fit the stepsisters.
Encouragement and opportunities to read are the number one academic priority of The Front Porch. If you need some statistics to make you cry, here you go (From Proust and the Squid by Mayanne Wolf):
"By five years of age, some children from impoverished language environments have 32 million fewer words spoke to the them than the average middle class child." (P 102)
"Children from impoverished environments used less than half the number of words already spoken by their more advantaged peers."(P 102-103)
In a study "in the most underprivileged community, no children's books were found in the homes; in the low-income to middle income community there were, on average, three books; and in the affluent community there were around 200 books." (P 103) We find this is true on the Porch. Just recently, a fifth grader who is having a problem in language arts explained that she has one book at home.
In another study, "children who come to kindergarten in the bottom twenty fifth percentile of vocabulary generally remain behind the other children in both vocabulary and reading comprehension. By grade 6 approximately three full grades separate them from their average peers in both vocabulary and reading comprehension." (P 103)
Getting children to read isn't rocket science. We have done it for years. At the community center on Thursday nights, before free time, the kids knew they had to read. There was a pile of library books on the table. They had to find something that remotely interested them and a partner they could at least tolerate, or at least not hit. We asked them what kind of books they would like and provided them Buddy reading was always a part of homework time. Kids would pair up and take turns reading to each other for a set amount of time. Sometimes there were kids who couldn’t read well, so we would put them with a teenager or move them sort of away from the other kids so the other kids wouldn’t see them struggle. In extreme cases we would get a skilled adult to come in and tutor kids who couldn’t read at all. It was all about adjusting to each individual kids needs. This also let the older kids showcase their reading skills. They showed they had something of value to someone else that was not a material possession – their reading skills.
We have a reading race every summer. The kids compete for three prizes at the end of summer and participate in the Detroit Public Library's Summer Reading Program. A trip to library or reading on the Porch is required before going on trips to swim or bike etc. It works.
If you have ever taken a group of kids to the library, you know it’s magic. Maybe it’s just the Detroit Public Library, but you can almost hear something click in the universe. We love to have the treasure hunt, which is a nightmare for the clerks who put the books away (which is easily taken care of by pre planning and helping to stack the books by their categories, apologies and maybe even some cookies for them.) Each pair of kids has a paper in their hands and they are racing through the stacks of books. “Poetry”, one is saying to the other. Another is looking for a book on crocodiles. They are trying to look over each others shoulders to cheat. They are racing. They are also learning where all the books are in the library and how to research. How do we give this to kids? With trips to the library. They are inexpensive and invaluable. How to do a library trip and to do buddy reading is below.
How to Organize the Trips
Description: Buses take kids during the school day to the library as a part of their reading class. Preparing for the trip: In preparation for the library visit, students are given library card applications by their teacher. Kids who have an outstanding bill at the library can fill out a one-page application for amnesty up to $40 explaining why it is important to return books to the library. Amnesty is a one-time only opportunity. The library is paid the bill from a small fund once the application is. Teachers can get library cards for their groups. If books disappear, they can apply to the teacher amnesty fund within limits. At the library: The librarian introduces them to the library, reads a story or does a reading activity with students. Kids with library cards or completed applications can check out books or return books they have. Children choose their own books and read while at the library. Needed Items:
First graders read books to fifth graders, who help them when they need it. At the end of the semester, fifth graders are recognized for their community service with a certificate and first graders are recognized for their reading ability with a certificate at a Buddy Reading pizza party. All children get to pick out one book from an assortment of new books to take home. Needed Items:
Kids need individual attention in this area. In-school tutoring, reading with older students, directly after school tutoring at the school itself. More attention paid to test/care for reading disabilities. Method of teaching reading should include phonics (many children we work with cannot sound out words, it should NEVER be cut from the curriculum – it is borderline ABUSE to remove teaching the ability to sound out words from children’s lives) and games to make reading fun. Boys should be given material to read that interests them. Every school should have a school library and trips to the public library ($40 per class). Increase partnership with libraries to hire in mobile librarians whose whole job is to go to school, promote the library, read stories, bring reading activities for older youth and bring bookmobile. Youth often have fines they cannot pay. Make an amnesty fund they can apply for. Kids need books to take home to keep and each school needs book clubs.
This is the information we give our reading tutors:
Questions to ask yourself about each child that you are tutoring
1. Do they know the alphabet?
We have phonics flash cards you can use with them. Make two piles – what they know and what they don’t so they can see success and you can go back through the ones they know. It may be helpful to write down the ones they do not know for the next week.
You can play Sequence with them. There is a board with pictures in squares. First ask them to go through all the pictures with you aloud so you all agree on what to call each picture. Each kid gets different colored chips. The kids pick a card which is a letter and then match the letter to one of the pictures.Give everyone a prize for playing.
3. Do they know the sound that the digraphs and blends ("th", "bl", etc.) make?
Use the blends cards that are in with the phonics cards. Go through them a couple of times then go through them covering the pictures and just saying the sounds.
4. Can they sound out whole words?
These are just the little words like “with” or “is” that they should just memorize and know when they see them. We have flash cards for those and magnets of them they can arrange.
For all levels:
We have three sets of cards that have pictures on them. Ask the child to pick 3 or 4 cards and tell you a story. Some of the cards can be grouped and have an obvious story but encourage kids to mix them up and use their imagination. Encourage them to make up a beginning, middle and an end. At any level of reading the kids can do this. If there is more than one child, put the cards face down and have one child pick a card. They can start the story. Then the second child picks a card and continues the story. Then you pick a card and continue the story.
One little seven year old boy stood out in the hallway crying that he wanted his mommy. I was warned ahead of time that he was having a lot of problems in school. He couldn’t take one more minute of homework. He looked like he was drowning. The astute tutor realized that he couldn’t see well. Kids who need eyeglasses are not being noticed. Some of the kids in our group have gone for years without being noticed. We found out that when they are tested at school by the health department a letter is sent home. Bam. That’s the end. Then parents are supposed to follow through. What if they don’t? What if they move a thousand times and that letter never reaches them? What if they don’t have transportation to the nearest eyeglass place (none are in walking distance)? Is it just too bad, so sad for kids who struggle? There should be a more efficient way and certain way to deliver this essential service. Kids who are missed go for years and miss learning experiences and fall behind, all because adults haven’t made sure they don’t slip through the cracks. There should be an eyeglass-mobile where children’s eyes are tested and glasses given on the spot or a field trip to the eyeglass shop. There should be a second trip in January for kids who have broken their glasses or if their lenses popped out. More attention needs to be paid to testing children’s eyes systematically and a firm, certain follow-though. Also, their eyes should be tested the day they register for school.
Kids are not writing well at DPS. This is the weakest area for almost all the kids I have seen. The ability to express oneself through writing is nearly a human right. Aside from reading, teaching should focus on learning to write a good sentence, a good paragraph, then on writing a whole paper. Institute more phonics/spelling exercises to improve spelling. Many kids in our program cannot spell because they cannot sound out letters and blends.
We are lucky to have come across kids who have written despite the poor background they have gotten in writing. This is a story by BM, who also came up with the story of Brother Bee in the Garden section of this webpage. She was promised a scholarship from a local urban university when she was in middle school. She is an adult now and we called to follow up and they denied that it was ever offered. Not true. She was cheated.
This is another story by one of the kids.
There is a lack of recognition for kids who do academically well and those who are beating the odds and for teachers who are doing a good job. There should be awards for kids who are nominated by teachers or other involved adults and teachers nominated by students and parents. Recognition in the press like how little towns list the honor roll. It would be very easy with the Internet now. The local elementary school had an honors dinner that was sponsored by some individual donors and businesses. This seems to be a very good match for the business donation. Employees can come help with the event. There could even be scholarships given out. More businesses should direct their giving directly to the children who are achieving at low income schools. They are being overlooked, especially the youngest achievers..
Example: Beating the Odds Scholarships from Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services
A group of boys sits on the Porch; They are sweating through their clothes, chasing the disappearing shade around on the porch, with a notebook in their hands. They are studying for the GED, while they are working for a stipend. Two are older teens and one is younger. No, they didn’t go take the test. The summer program ended before they finished and their stipend ran out. You see, there are some kids who drift soundlessly from school around 9th or 10th grade into never, never land. Maybe they get by stealing small electronics, selling drugs, stealing cars. These are not the roughest kids – they are kids who are directionless and if caught, they could have taken a different path. I was against paying them to study, but I realized NOTHING else would motivate them. Typically they have a parent who has mental health issues, is in jail, or has an addiction problem. Usually victims of neglect, the most insidious of all problems children have. They have no one guarding their interests, steering them through particularly difficult adolescent years that need a firm hand to keep them on track. No one is making an effort for them. It doesn’t mean that their parents don’t love them from jail, when they are sober or in moments of cognizance. It does mean that there is no consistency or support for the future. These are most of the GED kids. They fall in and out of all the local adult ed programs. They need Advocacy (see Chapter 3) more than any of the other kids. They need to have someone there, who even if they decide to disappear into the underground economy for a period of time that they know there is someone to support their academic efforts if they decide to climb out if it. We have had kids come back 3 or 4 times in-between trying out the local adult ed programs to get a lesson or a GED study book. That is hope when we hand them that book, from out part and from theirs. Below is some algebra from one of the kids.
Then there are teens that would do better moving at their own pace through classes because of home situations such as staying home from school to watch younger siblings, inability to get to school, or lack of desire to be in social situation. On line classes would suit them best. Michigan Virtual High School (www.mivhs.org) costs money, offers no scholarships, and must be approved by school youth goes to. Many youth do not have the funds and not all schools work with MVHS. There should be scholarships for classes, the ability for after school programs to have kids in the program and get credit without approval of their school, or for all schools to be required to review/accept the credits, particularly for failed courses.
Understanding High School is the Key to College Success
When the porch was beginning, a kindly professor (a former president of the UAW) welcomed the kids into his university class on labor studies. The kids sat at the back of the room, restless, but stayed through the whole thing. The goal was to demystify going to college. There were no formal avenues for kids to have this experience. We hoped that they would see people just sitting in the room listening and answering questions and not be scared to say that that is where they were going, since many of them didn’t have people nearby who were going to college. Did it work? Early college experiences must be good in some respect, but if the local high school doesn’t seal the deal with actual prep for college – it’s a wasted effort. And in our neighborhood, the local high school prepared kids for nothing. Kids sat in hallways, bribed security guards with fast food hamburgers from a nearby restaurant, and didn’t have homework. For years kids didn’t graduate because their credits were a tangled mess no counselor was watching over. Sure, there were a few good teachers at that school, but that was a major reason generations of children have not succeeded in the neighborhood. The elementary schools were not horrible, the middle schools were off the hook and high school barely deserved the name school. Rather a building full of teens with adults getting paid. At a local university, they were desperate to find just a few kids to fulfill their scholarship requirements. Kids who were bright were not inspired to continue education. You really couldn’t blame them.
First kid going to college
Yes, you just have to do it all for them. Hopefully their school counselor will help you. We used to aim kids toward 4 year college. But we have realized that community college is much more accessible for them to start out. This has nothing to do with skills and abilities. Detroit kids are just as smart, just cheated by their school system. The bill comes when they leave the cocoon of DPS and are with other kids. Our kids learned this because one of the kids was in private school. Kids aren’t stupid. They realized her 5th grade math was equal to their 9th grade math when they were on the Porch. They knew they could have done it if they had been given that work. They knew they were cheated.
Kids do not access tutoring because some tutoring programs are not at their school and are at after school hours, having kids walk home in the dark or not get picked up with other kids. Tutoring should be during school hours at a resource room at every school. It should be at the school site. It should be something teachers can require students to attend for their grade. Tutors can be trained kids who are in older grades or kids brought from the high school. There could be a workshop for teachers to give the older students before school starts again in fall. A workshop for kids interested in being tutors would be offered in the first two weeks of school and tutoring starting the third week of school, no later.
Everyone knows this: class size is too big. If schools are unable to obtain funding for smaller classes, have classes broken into groups. Use support staff and older youth doing community service to provide more attention for each child. Example: The Front Porch did partner reading, where 4th and 5th graders are partnered with 1st and 2nd graders. The younger kids read to the older kids who help them sound words out. The older kids learned responsibility, sharpened their reading skills, and gave back. The younger kids got much needed individual attention, feedback, and skill building.
Math could be taught through games and manipulative, with book explanations. It should be taught in multiple learning styles. Once kids are in middle school, every school or after school program should have math help. Parents forget the stuff - most cannot remember or know how to do math past 5th grade. There should be in-school tutoring. Slow the pace down and do homework in class. Do not give homework in this class. Do not allow kids to move forward until each section is fully understood. Incorporate games and computer software. There are lots of possible partners for this. Kids do not know multiplication tables. Reward for kids once they memorize them. Make it a rite of passage.
COMPUTERS AND TECHNOLOGY
Computers – it’s all about access to them. I watch how many crazy things highly paid computer professionals who want to do something charitable with computers do. It’s a world of a thousand requirements and programs groups have to fit into. No one is coming to groups asking, how can we help you?
Since we no longer have a center, this is our computer house. A folding table covered for one kid. It is covered because it is cold outside and because crackheads walk by who might get a notion to steal the laptop. No, we have no Internet. There is no wireless. You can imagine when I have sat in technology meetings about non-profits how aghast I am when they are talking about something like Skyping when we don't even have the Internet. This reflects the situation of many individuals in the neighborhood as well. Many kids have laptops but paying Internet bills is always questionable and intermittent at best. For all of us. When I go to a coffee shop with wireless I always feel like I have entered another century. This whole website, our whole business, and all homework research is built on turtle dial-up that we can't quite get outside to the Porch. It is a magnificent feat.
How did we do it at the community center? We just had some monitors donated from one of my friends who worked at community college, some CPUs we bought with pieces of grants. The Internet was provided by the center since they already had it and we just used it in the evening. We bought a printer – we only had one on purpose. Kids will print freaking everything and ink is so expensive – no one is giving ink to non profits. There had to be tight control on the printer cord to prevent frivolous printing. A teenager would sign the kids up for a computer. There was never enough time, according to the kids, for each of them to play games or check Facebook etc. – and this is a common complaint at libraries from the kids as well. The computers all faced out so everyone could see what they were looking at. The importance of technology use for kids is way overrated. The computer is a tool invented by people who didn’t have computers, but who could read, think critically and were intrinsically motivated. I think those things are much more important for adults to give kids. They can figure out the computer once they have all those things.
Again, when we tried to have regular computer classes, the kids were not all showing up all the time. On ideal days we had just one adult to show individual kids who were interested how to do things. On teen nights, sometimes when there weren’t too many kids, we would have impromptu web design classes etc. What could we have used? Free Internet, free computers, ink, free technical assistance, and free software. I don’t really understand where all these computer nonprofits care coming from with their requirements and programs. Teachers at local schools assign computer typed homework before children have had typing lessons. Students should be required to take typing class (and the school should provide it) at a certain grade and allow requiring typing assignments only after that point. Teachers also assign computer/Internet homework to youth who do not have access to a computer, printer or transportation to the library. At the local library, fines of $10 or more make it impossible for a youth to use the computer and their time is very limited on the computer. Teachers should give ample time for students to complete computer based assignments at school. Here are some essentials we would have liked to have:
Ride by the Porch on a nice spring day and you will see a group of kids huddled around the sidewalk volcano for learning about pH, or maybe doing a fish dissection under a shady tree with a book to explain each part and what it does. If I tell this one group of girls I have a bucket of dead things from the science supply, they get excited and can’t wait to get their hand on a scalpel. For little kids we just plain old just bringing out magnets and letting them experiment with them to help them find a sense of wonder with the natural world. When I see these complicated grants for helping kids be more scientific, it puzzles me. Every child is born curious. Adults usually just kill it.
This is a group of girls who requested this. They will actually text the Porch and ask to dissect something. The kids LOVE science and we try to explain that science in school is not really what science as a job would be like. Science funders need to take a good hard long look at what they are funding. Many a day I have watched the kids discover and learn and observe and thought how some university probably has a million dollars of funding to teach urban kids this stuff but have so many hoops to jump through to get to the program (a ride there, a specific time etc.) that many would be scientists have relegated themselves to the underground economy without a peep, without making a discovery that could save lives or a species. It breaks my science heart.
Kids want to do experiments, not worksheets. They don’t want to read and answer questions. And I don’t think most scientists on earth would want to suffer that. Kids LOVE LOVE the experiment. It should be the core of science. After have them read because they will want to know to get the answer. For kids who have a low reading level, science experiments are a way for them to show their scientific intelligence.
The goals of Front Porch science have always been 1. To get kids to love science. This is done with experiments and by following THEIR interests, adults answering THEIR questions and helping them explore the environment they live in. 2. To finish their science homework and science fair projects for school.
The Science Fair
I passed their building of a local corporation who was involved in chemistry many times and wondered what they did for charity. I saw them at the State Fair with their own program that kids had to come to – which ended up with the teacher actually driving the kids to the program because parents wouldn’t couldn’t. I explained to Mr. Professional Chemist that if they would just send volunteers to school to help kids with their science projects that would be fulfilling their goal. He said to contact him and I did. No response. Their program was failing, they got the community advice they needed, but wanted to do it their way. That is what happens when you don’t ask people what they need – he didn’t ask science teachers in nearby schools what they needed, instead just implemented this cookie cutter approach to outreach. Wrong. Sadly. And so the local schools science experiments went on as lackluster and as painful as they were for kids whose parents want nothing to do with it. And honestly, being the substitute parent for so many of these over the years – its too hard. What they hell are they thinking making this some “opportunity” for parent involvement? Are they trying to make parents insane? It’s not fun for parents. This is something that needs a teacher all the way through from beginning to end. And the emphasis on how it’s presented? Really, to make kids so aware of marketing a science product when they don’t even understand the scientific method? It should be on a dollar sheet of board. No freaking $5 boarder on a $8 board that is at no store in the neighborhood. Write it out so people can read it. Don’t spill food on it. Bam! Show me some scientific thought, some research, explain what happened, discover something new. Don’t, DO NOT, make the presentation cute. It should be without parental help. It isn't really fair when kids who have doctors as parents are competing with kids whose parents can't read or who just hate science fair projects (AKA the majority of parents). It could be done with a teacher or with volunteer from that chemical company or from the bazillion people in the science community, from college students to PhDs, taking them step by step through the process. This is no place for parents. Ask parents to take a walk around the neighborhood to look at nature or something accessible. Really, this is what part of grade school science fair board should look like if kids themselves do it without worrying about the external appeal of their discovery. I cannot emphasize enough how unimportant the display is when it comes to teaching children about science and discovery.
She is testing to see what makes good insulation.
First, they are expensive. I understand that our local science center started as a store front with hands on experiments for the kids with people to explain. The importance of people who explain cannot be underestimated for children and science. I see that engineers, corporations and scientists like to fund some giant fabulous superscienceinator material object, but what kids need is really simple experiments and brilliant staff to explain them. I know its conventional American wisdom to buy kids stuff and this should serve them well. It doesn’t, not in any subject, they need adults. Especially in science, they need explanations. They need adults there who can answer questions. They need highly educated adults. One of the kids ( a genius) asked, when the local university neuroscience program professor wisely had a brain he brought around to kids (freaking brilliant), “are the memories still in there?.” The professor paused, looked hard at him and said, “We are working on finding that out.” No, this is no simple task, manning the simple science experiments at science museums. It could be more difficult than the PhD defense. Better to have a store front with some kitchen experiments and highly paid skilled staff than some behemoth of a building with broken experiments and missing signage – which makes a great assumption that the children and adults doing the experiments will read and understand the sign. Not so. We have taken a lot of science trips. Here is my take on the ones I can remember:
One of our first main projects was a neighborhood garden. I had taken a neighborhood mediation class and met an urban gardener named Gerald Hairston. My grandmother lived one street over and had an urban garden. Our family always had something growing. The whole eastside of Detroit has always been filled with backyard gardens. Gerald suggested that I make a garden with the kids. I found the closest empty lot on a relatively safe street. We started each growing season with an archeology dig, by burying different objects in the newly turned soil. Here is how the kids would mark off on a grid what they found. Then they would have to conclude what sort of site it was.
A woman on the block let us use her family’s water. Her kids and some others down the block started planting. Eventually, most of the kids on that block worked in the garden and did more and more of the planning for the garden. We got compost, plants and seeds with help from City’s farm-a-lot program. We had a garden party at the end of each year. This is an invitation to the party.
In the third year of the garden, one of the kids from next door wrote a youth grant to the Community Foundation. We got the grant and put in fruit trees, a pond, and lots of roses. (The teen grant writer is now a sergeant in the military.) There I began working with Ms. Karen, a mom of one of the kids who gardened. The first time she helped out, a kid went after another kid with a shovel and she stopped him. (This boy who wielded the shovel, partly thanks to Ms. Karen, grew into a responsible adult) This bad first experience did not stop her from helping out - she directed programs regularly for the Porch. The garden was never perfect. We had only a few adult volunteers. One neighbor would complain it was a mess. Kids came and went as they pleased. The garden mom became sick and moved. We had been paying for water from the neighbors on the other side. Eventually they cut off the water after they got the money. The neighbors further down let us use their water. We used wagons and coolers on wheels. This infuriated the man next door, who ripped apart the garden in the middle of the night. That ended the garden, much to the pain of the many children and adults who had worked on it. I still remember two of the most involved kids sneaking over there, rescuing some vegetables for a final garden meal, and picking the last surviving flowers. Even though the garden was destroyed, children were later able to put small gardens in their backyards, gained good eating habits, and for years remembered the sense of community and the scientific knowledge they gained. Now there is still a small garden in front of The Porch, with strawberries, raspberries, potatoes and flowers for the butterflies.
This photo is of the much competed for organic strawberries from the patch in front of the Porch. They are always picked clean.
The Front Porch also hosted Rooted in Community, a conference about food security. This was drawn by one of the kids from another group similar to the Front Porch who we worked with to make it happen.
A great gardening field trip is to a U-Pick place. We went twice to Rowe's Strawberry Farm. It was fabulous. The kids can’t pick enough of them. Then we made strawberry pies on the porch afterwards. Kids are really adept at making pies. Also, the Detroit Agriculture Network and the local extension offered a workshop on Seed Planting. Just a few kids went, but we counted it as community service. They enjoyed themselves and their plants grew when they went home.
Below is a photo of T.H., a teen doing community service, helping to plant the Hope garden, a few blocks from the Porch.
Children's Garden Resources
Animals and children are a natural pair. I will never forget the day the little group of gardening girls had a funeral for “Brother Bee” a big fat bumblebee they had found dead in the garden. They are adults now and still remember that. They had completely imitated the adults they had seen at funerals, using play to understand their world better. Dead or alive, kids love to learn about animals. I always keep some dead bugs in jars and we have a dead bat in jar. As mentioned earlier, we always keep some animals in formaldehyde for them when they are ready to dissect or watch. Regardless of how I feel about animals rights (I have been a vegetarian since I was a teen and did my master’s thesis on conserving Asian elephants), zoos and dissection animals give children an understanding of biology that they cannot get any other way. Each year we got a pet. We began with three ducklings from the 4-H. Mack, Jack and Pat. The kids put them in the baby swimming pool in front of the house. A grandma down the street would come with her granddaughter twins. The little boys, who normally had pit bulls, held the ducklings and took care of them. The ducks went to live at the farm program at the school for pregnant girls (Catherine Ferguson Academy) in Detroit. We raised butterflies several times over the years. The kids were always amazed to see them come out of their cocoons and touch them.
We had a beloved gray rabbit named Forever.
We paid for the local bat conservation group to come out. Also, the kids went to a couple of presentations of groups that bring exotic animals to groups. They ADORE this. Sadly, we have a zoo here that believes in minimal contact of people and animals, so this is the only chance children get to really express their biophilia (love of life) with animals. We had a worm bin which the kids watched like they watched TV. We are starting to keep bees. Keeping animals means dealing with dead animals, but it is so well worth it in the end for the kids. Animal Field Trips are always enthusiastically attended. Here are some we went on:
Science At School
There should be hands-on activities, basic scientific concepts should be taught and class should not move on until understood. Bring in more outside presenters like Greening of Detroit, World Wildlife Fund, Mobile Metropark, Cranbrook or the Detroit Science Center. Provide science teachers with support staff to gather hands-on materials get ideas and schedule presenters.
I found that field trips had to build a sort of field trip momentum. At first, just a few kids would show up, then more and more the more often and regularly scheduled they were. Remember many parents weren’t looking at the calendar for the kids; the kids are fairly independent in this area The kids whose parents were watching the schedule pretty much held up the sky for the rest of the kids – showing up made the next trip possible, and the next. Taking kids we hadn’t seen on the porch or at the center was almost always a bad idea. They had to learn first that there were rules to the Porch and they would be followed or there were consequences. Here are some of the historical places we went and things we did.
We found people from different cultures that we knew and asked them to come and share their culture. Some people charged a small fee, some people came for free. One friend of a friend came to a neighbor’s big basement and to a packed crowd; he explained the rite of passage in Nicaragua of boar hunting. A librarian came and cooked Chinese food and we had a Chinese new year celebration. The kids put on a dragon costume from a box and explained the history of Chinese new year. They would also go have Mexican food and ice skating in the Latino part of the city and the lovely neighborhood skating rink. There they met a lot of Latino kids. It is always hard to find places where the porch kids could mingle naturally with kids from other cultures. Detroit is sadly very monoculture except in some spots. One clerk at the local library was Hmong and she explained about her culture. Food and the chance to meet kids the same age are the best cultural mediums. Teenagers mixing up is a great way to mix up kids because they are so social at that age.
A man who was part native American and part African American came to speak with the kids about their heritage, since many of the Porch kids, having roots in the south, were mixed with Native American. We also had the opportunity to go to an Indian camp in Northern Michigan, where the kids got to spend the weekend with the Native American kids there. The subject of black and white people has come up less and less through the years. It used to be more of an issue, but as Detroit became more monoculture, kids experienced it less.
We found that eating foods from other cultures was a great bridge for kids to learn about other cultures. We also played a game from UNICEF called Lingo, which is a food BINGO game in different languages. The youngest kids would always pick up the words the fastest.
These are places we have field tripped for cultural education:
Athletics Taking Up Academic Time
School athletes are not reaching their full academic potential because schools let them slide. Solution: Students on school athletic teams should be monitored by an independent program and independently tested.
After School sports are too intense – too long, too many days/week Solution: Make a legal maximum number of hours youth can practice.
Sports we field trip to:
The Garden Bowl: The great thing about bowling is that it appeals to athletes and non-athletes as well. It is very inclusive, individual but yet a team and not too expensive. The kids consistently want to go bowling each summer.
Ice skating is always welcomed as well. There is a rink downtown that is VERY expensive and there are no real group rates. There is a neighborhood rink on the southwest side that is great because the kids can mix up with the kids in a different neighborhood and different culture and it’s very cheap.
City of Detroit Balduck Park is great. It would be better if on snowy days there were a bathroom, and for sale: hot chocolate, cups of soup, extra gloves and hand/foot warmers.
Kids LOVED the Swimmobile (A semi converted to a pool, filled by the fire hydrant, pulled in for block club parties). It is an easy community builder. We were told it went into the garbage dump because it was not up to health standards of having showers and it was too costly to run. The city was using a forestry truck only on weekends, paying overtime to the staff. Our kids have written to the City Council about this issue. Solution: Get a new one, with its own truck cab.
WHAT URBAN KIDS NEED TO BECOME SWIMMERS
We have struggled for years to get African American neighborhood kids to take swim lessons. We have made a list of what we have found they need.
1. For girls - THE major barrier for African American girls to swim is how to care for African American hair in the chlorine. This would be in the form of a waterproof poster for locker rooms and an online brochure, free haircare products. Hairstyles that are good for swimming. Swim caps are not enough. Seasoned swimmers know how to change clothes under a
towel without anyone seeing. Teach this skill. A poster with this skill.Donate shower curtains.
2. Vending machines with inexpensive swimming stuff - basic suits, swimming caps, soap, towel, lock. For kids with no support at home for swimming, the ability to have these things at local pools is essential. Nobody's driving them to go get these things.
3. Encouraging drop-in lessons. Kids without parental support do not attend lessons regularly, but will come back some days. They need to be kept track of with a chart and their name so they do not end up in group one every time they show up. This frustrates them and turns them off. Kids who need the recreation center the most in our neighborhood do not usually show up for such a rigorous schedule. It wouldn’t be necessary to completely get rid of those old-fashioned style lessons – there are still a few kids and parents who would find that sort of schedule acceptable, but the schedule needs to include drop-in style lessons offered as a stepping stone to more regular lessons. Without this stepping stone, you will have lessons that are not filled to their capacity and children who come for open swim and have no idea how to even float. We think this is cheating kids. Solution: Post a chart with the kids’ names listed who come to the drop in lessons. Have the different levels listed and have the instructors mark off where the kids are. When and if those kids return, put them in the group they were previously in – just one minute lost. Lessons should not be a full hour – kids no longer have that attention span. You could also fit more lessons in with smaller groups that way. If centers offered 4 drop in sessions each week, about ½ hour each, they would have more kids in our neighborhood who would have at least swimming basics. During drop-in swim lessons, they could also then have a sort of “commercial” for the old-fashioned swim lessons.
4. Visits from African American swim champs. Where are they? Photos of great swimmers from the local rec center/pools on the wall. They need to see themselves in this sport.
5. The YMCA is too expensive for the neighborhood kids and too far away. The membership fee deters most disadvantaged kids and youth groups from using their services. In Detroit, most kids go to the free rec center, to the cheap county waterpark or the nearby suburban pools if they are lucky enough to get a ride.
6. Recognition for the swim teachers in urban areas. Their job is so hard. The ones at our local rec center free lessons have finally taken our advice and switched to drop in lessons. Two beginning swim instructors had a very long line of kids waiting for their turns. They are incredible and need to be recognized. They also need more training on games through which they can teach swimming through play.
7. Prizes for kids as they move up each level. For kids without parental support, this might help them return to lessons. Like how libraries do a summer reading club with prizes for so many pages read.
8. Make swim lessons a required part of another sports program.
9. Lifeguards to school classes in spring to talk to kids about water safety, fear of water and upcoming swim lessons.
10. Water safety curriculum for school and benefits of swimming.
11. Encourage swim buddies - bring a friend to swim lessons. Maybe a reward for recruiting a new kid to lessons. Particularly good for teens.
12. Encourage swimming early - before puberty. When kids wait till puberty, there are 1000 issues to get over before you even get to the fear of water. Better to start in 3rd of 4th grade - not middle and high school beginning swimming. How many girls flunk swimming because they will not change clothes and get in a swimsuit? Too many. Grade schools might need transportation to pools.
13. Free swimsuits for needy kids. Cute ones. One with skirts for teen girls. One per summer or they will waste them.
14. Drop in swim races. Kids without parental support do not show up for swim meets or the prep regularly. But occasional drop in races allow them to show their skills.
15. "Commercials" for swim lessons during open swim - when they give the rules. Encourage open swim and swim lessons to be side by side in swim schedule.
16. This is how an urban kid would progress:
a. child comes to open swim, sees commercial for lessons. sticks around
for lessons after.
b. comes more and more to drop in lessons
b. shows up regularly for lessons
c. comes to drop in races
d. comes to regular swim team
e. lifeguard training
17. rename swim "lessons". I don't know what you could call it, but we lose a lot of kids at the name. They say, "I already know how to swim". No, they don't.
18. Be careful with any partnerships through which this money flows. In detroit, it has a 90% chance of going down the drain before it reaches kids.
19. Partner with an environmental group to test the beach regularly on Belle Isle, Detroit. This urban beach has a reputation of being dirty and discourages urban kids from using it. This reputation could be cleaned up if it was tested daily/weekly and posted and results put on a phone
Trips for Kids – a now defunct program in Detroit for kids that was FABULOUS. They took kids on mountain bike, street bike rides, hiking, canoing and snowshoeing. They provided everything. You just had to show up with your kids, which is how most specialty equipment laden programs should be. They had volunteers who loved the sports they were teaching the kids. They used local parks which exposed kids to a lot of places they could never get by bus and their parents were not taking them, to activities they could never do without instruction. The volunteers they brought were excellent. The program should have been funded by a foundation, but since they were so smart with their resources they couldn't get the funding they needed because their budget was so small! When they stopped our group and the other groups who accessed them lost out. They were accommodating, organized and accessible. There is no way our group could have organized many of those trips without the technical skill, the cost of equipment and the extra volunteers and knowledge. There are some people who should get a full time job helping kids, and the man who ran that program should have been given a salary by some group – but sadly there is no collective fun (AKA knowledgeable foundations) who would fund their group like that who benefited so many other groups. The loss of that program hurt the kids. The kids still ask when we are canoing again or mountain biking. We had lost our transportation which knocked us out. They should be funded for staff and volunteers, and as long as a group provides chaperones, permission slips, prepared kids, every youth group should be able to access this program.
Saturday Morning Rides have always been a great field trip. We always go at about 8 am on a Saturday morning before traffic gets bad and head for the very wealthy nearby suburb. We stop for breakfast and then head toward Lake Saint Clair.
We hesitate at giving away things. Ever. It is complicated. First, is it fair to all the kids? Then will someone sell it away from the kids? Will the kid sell it? Remember, if it’s between keeping on the heat and keeping the bike...or worse, between crack and the bike, crack always win. It’s not so easy to just be Santa to economically disadvantaged kids like you might think. You have got to think it through. So we decided on a loan of used bikes to kids who we have known for a long time who are not packing up soon.
In Chicago on a field trip, we rented those bikes built for four. FABULOUS for team work and just enjoyment and exercise.
In the past we have been forced to rent bikes nearby when buses wouldn't let us put them on to take to a park. This is outrageously expensive for groups.
Catman. The kids made the best movie about this broke down delivery truck that creeped us all out when we’d walk back from the center. Catman lived in the truck. He chased kids. It seems like every movie was a monster chasing kids, which was fine with me. I have the rule that you have to be 13 and super responsible to hold the camera. Then I’d bring out the costumes we’d gotten for dress up at 80% off after Halloween or donated clothes, the kids would dress up and the movie would begin. Some kids would be clueless, bit some kids are natural directors and I’d let them rule. If I didn’t it was like pulling teeth or there would just be one long fight. On the porch, there is never planning for tomorrow because I would never know if those same kids were coming back. The camera came with editing software and I never could find a teen who was interested enough to really get into it. Those specialized interests are hard to find kids for. But sometimes you find kids who have specialized interests but don’t have the equipment/volunteers. We found hairdressers who were also makeup artists. For a reasonable fee, they came and demonstrated how to make kids into old people and get scars. The crowd was restless. They all wanted to do it or get one, not watch.
Art Field Trips We Have Enjoyed
One time workshops, again, worked best because we would never know if the same kids would return. We focused mostly on drums. One place nearby would give inexpensive workshops on buckets. The kids loved that. Once we had a friend’s husband who was a Bongo player come and show them some basics. Music is hard because you need instruments. We never ran across a singing teacher, although we would have liked to have a singer workshop.
One very famous pottery place, mostly because of the education coordinator there, would always work with us. If we were outside on blankets, they would still come and teach. In the dilapidated recreation center on the floor, they came. They never complained. They just made amazing pieces with the kids, took them to get fired and brought them back. Their flexibility made it possible for the ancient art to be passed onto our kids.
Now Defunct Detroit Festival of the Arts Children's Artist Market
For many years we participated in the well run Detroit Festival of the Arts Children’s Fair where kids made jewelry on the Porch and then sold it at the fair downtown. It was one of the most brilliant ideas for children in Detroit, or perhaps the earth. I had seen something like this in Prague in the area near the castle for disabled children, but the Children’s Fair here was a conglomeration of great coordinators through the years and a careful board. Really they were people who sincerely cared for children and made sure each child got the most out of it they could. It was an artist’s market where kids could get a table and chairs for about $20 for Saturday and Sunday at the Adult Art Fair but in the Children’s Area. It was situated between the area for grown up artists and the children’s activities. Kids from Detroit, from youth homes, and kids from suburbs would work sometimes all year to set up a booth to sell their artwork. The artwork had to be approved by the art fair committee and I think they had the hardest time making sure parents weren’t doing it for the kids. Our group always made jewelry. The kids would start a couple of months ahead and first, try to grasp the concept of making something to sell, then to learn that it shouldn’t all be what they like, but what they think would sell. They had to think through how to set up the table, what to price things, how to make the signs, and how to approach people. There were a few kids who came year after year and they guided the younger kids. We brought a cash register but always had an adult with the bulk of the money. It was an amazing growth experience, the amount of skills they learned: marketing, quality control, and how to run a business basically. And on top of this, the kids took turns leaving the table to explore the art fair, enjoying puppet shows, seeing the adult artists’ jewelry, making everything that was available in the children’s fair, this included being on TV, making a mask or a paper bag hat or doing a science experiment. It was a true festival of children, a chance for them to have a place in the city that was fully aimed at them, by a group of very caring adults. They stopped the whole Art Fair, and no foundation had found it worthwhile to pick that up. I just saw some foundation had sponsored a group of artists and so they get their art fair, but the kids in the neighborhood who still ask when it is got nothing. It is an awful shame.
The above is the kids' price chart for the Art Fair
Art on The Porch
Kids love to be taught a skill and then let loose. Make and Takes that are like "put this piece here and that piece there" are not good for children. They need to be free to create. The photo below is of the kids sitting on the sidewalk (the Porch was too sunny at that part of the day so we had moved to the sidewalk under the shade of the maple tree) making friendship bracelets. They were taught the basics and let loose with whatever colors and knotting they wanted to use. They also learned to put beads in it. It's always best to just leave a big messy pile of supplies and let them go. Most adults don't get this. Teaching art is about teaching basic techniques and from there, its all about the right side of their individual brains. Its about teaching them to let go and explore their imaginations.
Below is a painting by KP done on the Porch.
This is from one day of dress-up at the center. We always do dress up - we do it now at the elementary school. It is chaos but it is where young fashion designers are born. It is an escape from the reality of Detroit life. It is just a whole lot of fun. Across the yucky community center carpet there were many a runway shows hosted by wonderful MCs. Teenagers helped the kids put their designs into reality and helped them organize the backstage (the tiny kitchen).
Paper dolls from a day on the Porch. Painted over and over by ES.
A house in the neighborhood drawn on the sidewalk by TH. Fabulous work.
The local elementary school had a chess team. The kids would learn chess on the Porch and practice here and then go to the after school program. It ended when the teacher’s personal life didn’t allow any more time for the club. So many urban kids love chess and it is so good at helping kids develop planning and strategy skills and is a great outlet for kids who may not like other team sports. It is cheap and should be an option for every child.
In the cool shade under the tree in front of the Porch, the teenagers stood around the man from the local bank (back when banks were still in the neighborhood). He explained some basics about banking and the kids patiently listened.
Another day, the teens at the center played the “Take Stock” game, buying and selling shares of Yahoo and Nike. They also went through a great set of worksheets from the Youth Sports and Recreation Commission where they learned how to make a personal budget and write checks. An example is below.
In the summer, in the dank room at the old recreation center, they each picked a real stock and watched their stock in the newspaper each week – whoever’s stock gained the most over the length of the summer program got a cash prize. On the Porch and at after school at the local elementary, little kids play store with a cash register and some plastic fruit with masking tape price tags. The Children’s Fair also was a great place to teach about buying and selling. Their favorite game was Pit, which is actually about selling commodities. The game is a screaming riot and a great entrée into teaching about trading, bull and bear market if you can get them to stop playing it long enough to listen. The Price is Right Board game has a million possibilities if there were a children’s version. It gives them a good idea of how much things really cost. Monopoly and Life are excellent for learning many financial concepts – but only with making them count out money – no electronic crap that takes the learning experience of counting away. I have seen kids go from no understanding of making change to being ready to work in a bank after a few games of Life out of the sheer desire to win. On the Porch we try to use that American competitiveness to the kids’ advantage to motivate them to learn faster.
The kids’ most favorite way to learn about money was, guess what…to get money. We made up a “Money for Grades” program. Kids had about a month into the school year to sign a permission slip/financial agreement along with their parents and then according to age, there were different amounts of money they got for different grades each semester. High schoolers got the amount of their GPA with the decimal moved one place to the right. (3.0 = $30) The hitch was that they had to leave half in the “bank” for a month and we would give them an insane amount of interest (25%) in order for them to quickly learn the advantage of investing. We had to put a cap on how long they could leave the money in there for the savvy kids who got the point and realized they were making money off doing nothing. Once, a local small smart foundation backed this, then an individual donor but we haven’t been able to secure funding since. Parents and children’s money are a tricky combination. Some parents will take money from their kids. We ideally would have liked to set up credit union accounts for them, but this would have involved: transporting the parents and children to the credit union – there is no credit union/bank within walking distance. Every time they wanted to make a withdrawal or deposit they would have had to be transported there. Parents have to sign for the kids and can touch their money. If kids have parents with no boundary about children’s money, they will take it. If they have an addiction problem, they will probably take it. By the bank being on the Porch, parents couldn’t take it and didn’t try. I don’t know about once the kids got home with the money though. There is only so much you can do. We think this would be a great program for all schools to do. The money invested by the kids could go directly into a scholarship fund or savings bonds. It is a lot of administration: adding up the actual cost of their grades, figuring the interest and disbursing the money at all times of the day/night. Having it every semester was cumbersome however it gave us the chance to ask them what they did with the last money, was what they did with the money worthwhile – a sort of financial debriefing was very worthwhile. In addition, it gave us a chance to see their report card, find out if there were any problems and address them. Financial education should be in school. At least one workshop in grade school, one in middle school and a whole required class. American kids need to have these skills and so many have none.
Financial Education Resources
Prizes are great for when there is no intrinsic motivation or when kids can’t grasp the long-term goals. It is never food. Teaching kids that food is a reward is to set them up for possible obesity. It is always little stuff. We keep a wooden treasure chest full of prizes. We put a time limit on how long kids can be in there because they will shop in there forever if you let them. Our favorite little prize is tattoos and stickers. They come in such an assortment and are cheap. Kids really like the chance to choose.
When kids do not have a lot of material things, they sometimes appear to be greedy when they are offered material things. The way to combat this is to show that the group has a short supply. We never stack a cabinet full of notebooks where they can see, because they will ask for them every day. We keep them where they cannot see them so they are always in short supply to their eyes – and honestly they are, we can’t be spending all the grant money on supplies – but they cannot grasp that. They also come to learn that whatever they ask for that is reasonable for school they get. They know there will always be something for them. It’s the same for games and toys. Often kids don’t take care of things. Maybe they move every 3 months and everything is thrown out anyway, maybe no one supervises their playtime and older brothers and sisters wreck everything anyway. Maybe in their little hearts, they have given up on trying to keep anything nice anyway. This needs to be taught. It means more time spent on putting things away and taking care of things, of not looking at everything as disposable. This takes a whole lot of patience, but is not impossible to turn the tide on this attitude. I always explain it to them like this: how do rich people stay rich? By taking care of the things they have so they can use the money for something else. Schools also have unreasonable expectations of supplies such as the tri-fold board which Is at least $6. That is crazy. Educational staff needs to refocus learning on learning and not on expensive presentations.
DIFFICULTIES AS AN ADMINISTRATOR
As an administrator of a non profit, people are always impressed at my job title. But really the hard parts are not what anyone would ever expect. There are so many parts of running a nonprofit that I have endured that were painful to myself. A lot has to do with the “culture of failure” that exists in Detroit. I suspect this is an outgrowth of racism. I don’t think a lot of the bad things have to do with racism at me. To the contrary, I found the people who worked to be sure the kids did not get what they deserved were African American. Sometimes I took it personally, but rarely because I was white. It always just felt like it was at me. Ms. Karen, the former assistant director, would always say, don’t take it so personally. I lived under attack most days with the kids. And it wasn’t from the kids, from their parents, from all the drug dealers and crack dealers in the neighborhood. It was from the people who were getting paid to help the community itself. I learned administration by the seat of my pants. The only workshop I took that really helped was the TAP program at the YSRC, nonprofit admin, where they gave us actual evaluations to use with employees and other pre-printed and adaptable things and gave us access to people who knew how to answer questions like, what can you ask in a job interview etc. The kinds of buisinessy things that you hate to have to learn but to keep going, you do. I used to cry doing the federal funding NOF paperwork. It was so complicated. The bookkeeping seemed like such a tremendous responsibility. I have never had a lot of money personally, so the thought of making a mistake and having to pay was a guillotine over me once a month. I had to go to what seems like a million workshops of the logic model or whatever flavor of the month foundations and academics decided that nonprofits were woefully deficient at. I began to get the distinct impression that these folks thought that nonprofits were generally stupid. Time has told the tale and really it’s the other way around. Academics and foundations needed to be listening to nonprofits, not telling them what to do. To be giving them what they needed, not what they think they needed. Sure census and other demographic information can be useful, but those are extra tools to add to LISTENING to the people and groups they are trying to help. If there was one thing that constantly brought success to the Porch, it was the connections we had from the beginning. We did not evolve in a vacuum. We evolved in a community where we received lots of support: the library, community group, senior center, the block club, and neighbors. Over time, we grew to understand what kids needed the most, what would make them succeed no matter what. It stood out loud and clear. This is the advocacy program described in Chapter 3. There is a gap in the ideas of relationships. A volunteer from an affluent suburb next to Detroit was telling me that his neighbor was on the board of three foundations. From that, I was to infer that he would “talk” with them about our group. Because that’s how the game goes. If a relative of mine didn’t work with his wife, I would never have the opportunity of this connection. That’s how the world of foundations and giving works. Yet when it comes to foundations funding groups, they pretend that there are no connections in the community where the socio economics are lower. How many times have I had to sit through meetings on “How to market your organization”? I actually got into a full on fight with a man telling me to market the Porch the same way people market pop. I keep explaining to these people that word of mouth suits us. That there is a marker written schedule on the door. I used to leave the schedule on the phone message but kids weren’t really using that. Texting and Facebook have become more useful, but not all the kids have access to phones or the Internet all the time. For most of them it is intermittent. Word of mouth is magic in my neighborhood. I sat, eyes glazed in the workshops about our logo, mission statement blah blah blah. I actually used to write and do all that stupid annual report/logo/marketing stuff for a university center, but I am pretty sure that people attended our events because through the ever fluid and open communication that is the specialty of the social workers who attended our events, they heard they were good. Back to the story about the immunization van that came to the park and no parents came up to it. I am sure that doctor uses connections and relationships all day between her assistants and the funders who fund the mobile van, but yet when it comes to the flip side of the connections in the ghetto, they are rarely used, undervalued and by doing so, it disrespects one of the strongest aspects of the neighborhoods (and one of the reasons I love Detroit.) In Detroit, if you talk long enough, somehow you know somebody. If you are savvy and think it through long enough first, you will be able to find the connection faster. While this of course leads to more corruption in Detroit, it is also strength. I am also finding this connection is the same in the suburbs around Detroit with our suburban volunteers. The same dynamics that are at work in an affluent neighborhood that decide which charities are funded on what they know sharing information is the same in the communities that are economically disadvantaged, if not tied even more tightly together by economic necessity? The same reason the immunization van pulled up and there were no families there is the same reason how we will send in a letter of intent to a funder who has no personal connection to us, will toss the application aside.
The community center
In another universe, the staff at a community center would be “what can we do to help you – volunteers and kids?” The staff there found us a burden. When the community center started, it was just a transportation company, housing development (that never happened) and a senior center. At different times, different staff members wanted us to disappear. A group of 25 kids is never welcome anywhere, honestly. And some of those kids didn’t have what is called in the neighborhood, home training – like kids who would put paper towel in the toilet clogging it up. Or sometimes we wouldn’t have adult volunteers or willing kids to clean up and so the center would be left with glue on the table or dirty dishes in the sink. We weren’t perfect, but we were also constantly being tried for crimes of the center. Sometimes the paperwork for grants would be purposefully and maliciously left for months. The extra burden of the hour of paperwork we had to do submit each month was just too much to ask, I guess. We did not contribute financially to the center. In retrospect, we used the center, at most 3 evenings a week. We were never allowed in there when the transportation company was working, so never before 5 pm. So it was sometimes we’d be there till 9. so really 12 hours a week we used the center. It’s quite the difference when a nonprofit has a hired staff, people who didn’t volunteer for years etc. to make a nonprofit work, versus those for whom it was just a job. There were bright spots, though. The founder of the center always had our back and was the only reason we were not thrown out. Yes, really, a youth group that was, really every day, accused of not putting the garbage out when they would leave the back door locked. YEARS of this uncontrolled criticism made us and the kids resent that staff. They had a lot of fucking nerve to treat volunteers and kids that way while they were getting paid to work for the community. CRAZY! So as you can imagine, running, before I would go to work in the morning to be sure the center was in shape because I was too bleary eyed from the fight two kids had the night before to be sure the center was spic and span has caused quite a few clumps of gray hair for me.
The community center allowed the kids to have parties. Parties are community building. They looked forward to the Halloween Party each year. As you may know, Halloween has been a troubled time for Detroit for a couple of generations now. The chance to celebrate with games, put on costumes and cook made the kids very happy. Simple things.
LESSENING THE "BUSINESS" BURDEN
The list of things below would make life a lot easier for nonprofits. In retrospect, we have had to waste a lot of time not helping children and learning to run the business side through experience, workshops and Internet research. Non profits should be able to excel at community work and lessen the “business burden”. There needs to be a one-stop shop, a place where non-profits get every service they need for low cost/free. This would provide economies of scale for non-profits, cutting the amount they pay for services, allowing funders to use their money more wisely and nonprofits to do more good. I am suggesting that funders take up the model we use on The Front Porch to help kids to make a successful helping relationship between funders and nonprofits. When our group helps kids, we ask them what they need. We give them that and they are successful and they come back for more help. Because of our past experiences, we often know what they may not know what to ask for, so we suggest it. Usually, they find it a good idea and take it. Funders should be asking nonprofits what they need, have high and realistic expectations of them, and provide the tools for them to be successful so that foundations, in turn are successful. This is how it would work: A consultant would meet with organizations that became members. The consultant would have a checklist of what all organizations should have to be well functioning administratively. (The Youth Sports and Recreation TAP program has this list already). The consultant would work with the organization to get to know their needs and provide them. Non-profits would at last be evaluated by their organization and program skills, not just by connections, fancy grant writing and an expensive audit/evaluation that many groups cannot afford. Making financial, personnel, computer, transportation services available as packages or singly can save overhead and time for groups. They could be offered either as a part of the grant, free, low cost, or as part of a membership. A simple survey of non-profits would decide this. Offer the services as part of a grant – like in the TAP from the Youth Development Commission program. If not part of a grant encourage participation by: offering groups a bonus for taking advantage, pay individuals to participate (thereby taking the burden of paying the hours from the organization) or pay the groups to cover the participation hours. If registrants don’t show up, no money. Each program should be evaluated by participants. It is important that there is one contact point to access these services. The difficulties nonprofits face are: to find the services, find quality services, find the money to fund the services, the time to take advantage of the services, and technical assistance after. This is what most groups need and would be available by membership:
ANI-RRG does a good job, but it’s not free. It is still a large part of any organization’s budget. Child Abuse Insurance costs more than liability insurance. This should be brought under control by having a system in place for POLICE to do a free and thorough clearance for the organization’s staff/volunteers. Why not the organization? Because then they have too much data on the people. A letter from the police would be much better. One, free path would assure children have the best protection possible.
Accountants: Shared accountants that provide bookkeeping, audits, 990. Issue: Bookkeeping is time consuming if you are not a professional. If the group does its own, they still need a bookkeeper to just look over their process and methods and offer advice. Solution: Retired bookkeepers. Issue: Cost and ability to use accounting software Solution: Free software, training, and technical assistance Possible Partners: TechSoup for software
Audits/990s: We don't really get the whole thing - foundations decided non profits needed audits. Where is the foundation to PAY for the audits? It is a gamble for non-profit, especially smaller ones, who don't have government grants where auditing funds are a part of the grant. For example, If our group gets an audit, we are eligible to apply for grants from many more funders. Maybe we will get a grant. Maybe not. Maybe that was $3,000 annually we could have spent on field trips, advocating for kids at school, healthy food or insurance. We don't like to gamble with our donor's money. As we understand it, auditors of non-profits have to go through expensive training to do non-profit audits. It is not something that they often donate because of the cost of being trained for it. The organizations who do individual low-income taxes for free know that this has been a gap in needs for nonprofits for a very long time. It is nonsense that charities should have to fundraise for this. Of course accountability is important, but charities funding a profession (the CPAs who are trained specially for non-profits) is certainly not what people have in mind when they write donation checks to charities. Solution: We are just guessing on this spider's web of an issue. Foundations or CPA-related charities fund the accounting programs that do individual low-income taxes to do non-profit audits/990s. Or have the IRS contract with these trained CPAs to do non-profit audits for free. Or have the training for non-profit CPAs funded from a foundation or the government. Possible Partners: CPA Associations, Foundations
Payroll. Issue: The cost of payroll service, selecting one, and knowing if what they are charging is fair Solution: Have a professional evaluate services or tell us how to evaluate rates and services and get us a discounted or free rate
Banking/Loans: Credit Union: One geared just for non-profits. Loans for money such as NOF and the group force to make that money flow. Business Reference Book: The Michigan Nonprofit Management Manual is no longer published, but yet was the most useful resource I have seen in all my years. Bring this back and update it, put it on line, for every state! Allow access by a small fee or by membership or free for nonprofits. Include financial policies and procedures in a Word document that can be changed by groups.
Templates: There should also be a free template of policies and procedures. (financial, data security etc.) There are many on the ANI-RRG website for members and they are EXCELLENT.
There should be an attorney on retainer for questions/cases for groups of nonprofits.
There should be made available to nonprofits professional grant writers. There should be FREE assistance, templates, and social connections to program officers and board members of foundations
Shared transportation for groups. School buses, Mini-buses, Mini-vans, car taxi-like service. Very low group fees for public transport.
Consulting with buying, utilizing government programs, inspectors, repair
Nonprofit directory and Networking: A website listing all services provided by city
Evaluators that would help set up internal evaluations or provide external evaluations, Feedback/Cohesive Group: Foundations could use this group to learn about what nonprofits need from them by asking them.
Computer Assistance – Administrative
I think by the end, you might be saying to yourself, wow, this group really has it down pat. Really knows what kids need. Yes, this is the question I have asked myself all the time in meetings with funders. If anything, it reflects on them, on how they fund, on their paradigms, their philosophies, their ethics. Afraid its just not putting them in a very good light, is it? We have sent them all our lists of what we wanted for kids, asked them for money and got nothing back. We remain in the vast stressful land of the mini-grant. It’s a sad commentary on how children are being treated. However, we continue on and our most important lesson learned is in Chapter 3.
Continue onto Chapter 3: The Answer
The Front Porch P.O. Box 24744 Detroit, Michigan 48224 USA firstname.lastname@example.org
This website made possible by the Youth Development Commission and designed on open source software from Kompzer.
This work by The Front Porch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.