J.P. King program puts troubled youth on a better path

Published 8:06 am Wednesday, November 3, 2010

by Jeannie Martin

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of guest columns from representatives of organizations that are supported by the Franklin-Southampton Area United Way, which kicked off its annual campaign last month.

Across our region, there are many youth who are at risk of dropping out of school and of getting involved with juvenile court. In Franklin, the School-Based Case Management Program is working hard to make sure these young people get back on the right path to a brighter future.

One boy, who we’ll call Colin, got the help he needed. Colin was referred to the School-Based Program when he was in eighth grade. Upon entering the program, he was three years behind in school. That’s right: three years behind.

Why? Because when it was time to start kindergarten, his mother was incarcerated. He lived with a variety of relatives in the community, but no one enrolled him in school. When he did finally start school, he was already two years behind.

To make matters worse, he was a struggling student, and one year he did not earn a promotion to the next grade. As a result, at 16 years old, Colin was only in the eighth grade and deemed to be highly at risk of dropping out of school. In addition to his school problems, Colin, considered a “street kid” by many, found himself on probation — a consequence of being in the “wrong place at the wrong time.”

After exploring his academic options with the school-based case manager and with his mother, Colin decided to pursue an alternative educational route. He set a personal goal of achieving a General Educational Development, or GED, and then attending community college. At the time of his discharge, he was well on his way to achieving this goal.

The School-Based Case Management Program, often called “Ray’s Program” by those who know the case manager, Ray Williams, is an interagency, collaborative effort of the Tidewater Youth Services Commission, the Franklin Court Service Unit and Franklin City Public Schools. The program is housed at J.P. King Jr. Middle School and serves youth attending that school.

With referrals accepted from the school and the court service unit, the program targets those youth who are at the highest risk of delinquency and dropping out of school. Youngsters are referred for many reasons, including excessive absences, fighting in school, classroom behaviors leading to school suspensions, a history of retention in the same grade, and even involvement with the juvenile court. The goals of the program are simple, measurable and specific: promotion to the next school grade and prevention of involvement in the criminal justice system.

To achieve these goals, Williams maintains an office at J.P. King, giving him daily access to his “kids.” If you’re in the program, don’t be absent because Williams is going to check on you and make sure you come to school.

Williams meets with each program participant at least once a week for counseling, academic assistance and even group sessions that teach specific skills to help his clients be successful. Regular family meetings are used to help the family’s problem-solving skills and to ensure supervision of the young person.

But the program is not just about individual and family counseling. Williams gets his kids involved in a variety of positive, pro-social activities, including community service, community recreation, and participation in outdoor activities like mountain biking and canoeing. Outings to area attractions like Nauticus and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame are regular program fare, but the highlight for most program participants is the annual fishing trip on the Chesapeake Bay. With such regular and intense intervention, Ray’s kids can and will be successful.

Many of Ray’s kids keep in touch even after finishing the program. One who stands out was in the program in 2006. He was a talented trumpet player, but did not own a trumpet and practiced on an old instrument belonging to the band director. As a participant in the school-based program, this young man received scholarship funds the Tidewater Youth Services Foundation to purchase a new trumpet — and what a difference that made.

From Franklin’s middle school to the high school band to the Governor’s School for the Arts, this boy made the most of his scholarship. In August, he entered Hampton University on a music scholarship and is using the same trumpet.

The Franklin School-Based Case Management Program is possible thanks to generous support from the Franklin community. For more information on this program and how you can help make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth, contact jmartin@tysfoundation.org or visit www.tysfoundation.org.

JEANNIE MARTIN has served for the past 11 years as executive director of the Tidewater Youth Services Foundation. She raises funds and finds community support for the Franklin School-Based Case Management Program. Her e-mail address is jmartin@tyscommission.org.