By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – An elementary school is turning to a grassroots self-improvement mentoring program to help troubled youth after eight students were suspended and with seven more facing similar fates.
The students (12 Black, two White, and one Latino) attend Enterprise Elementary School, which opened in August in Lancaster, a suburb located approximately 74 miles from L.A.
Eastside Union School District officials have invited them to participate in a five-month pilot program to be run by the H.E.L.P.E.R. (Help Establish Learning Peace Economics and Righteousness) Foundation. They hope the program will address the students’ behavioral problems so they may succeed academically and in social areas, a spokesperson told The Final Call.
“We’re excited to have the program. We’ve worked with outside community groups before, but it was nice to have someone that could offer a program that could help everyone,” said Dr. Mark Marshall, superintendent of the Eastside Union School District. He commended the school’s principal for his efforts to remedy the problem before things got out of hand.
The H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation, founded by Ansar El Muhammad and Melvin Hayward, intends to utilize best practices developed through their experiences and life skills as gang interventionists on the streets of Venice and L.A.
Mr. Muhammad said they will also draw on methods from model programs that undergird their organization’s success–the “Self-Improvement: The Basis for Community Development” Study Guides, courses by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and the Amer-I-Can Program, a gang intervention and prevention effort founded by NFL Hall of Fame great Jim Brown.
The pilot program is scheduled to start in January 2015 and end in June. According to Mr. Muhammad, activities will include weekly impact sessions focused on critical behavior issues, such as drug and substance abuse, community and family support, conflict resolution, self-fulfilling prophecy, and behavior modification.
“If there’s no intervention–and this is only a small fraction of the bigger problem–what ends up happening is these children will be identified as troubled youth. That information goes into their case file and it follows them throughout the course of their schooling,” Mr. Muhammad said.
One brush with criminal activity combined with their elementary school records, and some children end up locked away in juvenile hall, prison or outside the normal structure of society, such as gangs, when all they needed was some help early on, he continued.
Dr. Marshall attributed some of the children’s behavioral challenges to relocation adjustment. Over the last several years, the City of L.A. Housing Authority has moved a lot of federally-subsidized housing out of South L.A. to Lancaster. Other families moved for more affordable housing.
“The biggest thing I see is that a lot of people, even though they moved up here, they still work down there and a lot of times the parents just don’t have as much time to do a lot of the things that you would normally do,” Dr. Marshall said. “If you’re getting up at 4 a.m. and driving to L.A., and you get home at 7 or 8:00 at night, you’re going to bed.”
“What ends up happening is the students are out and they still have all that time they would normally spend with their parents to get into things. That’s something we’re hoping this program can make a difference to those kids, give them something, a bit more of a purpose,” Dr. Marshall continued.
He’d like students to come out of the program with the ability to make appropriate choices, make a good transition into middle school, and ultimately, do well when they enter high school, he added.
According to Doretta Thompson, member of the Antelope Valley Union School District Board of Trustees, their goal is to support the students in making progress, not just academically, but lifelong. “That starts inside the school environment,” she told The Final Call.
When she learned about the number of children facing possible suspension she became alarmed as a parent and member of the community, she shared. However, she’s comforted knowing the H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation’s program will help the district tackle several categories of problems facing its youth, Ms. Thompson said.
She also appreciates that it’s geared for all of Eastside’s students with challenges, not just Blacks. “As opposed to letting this spur out of control, we’re going to jump right on it. And Mr. Muhammad’s program, which provides mentoring to the youth as well as other supporters, is perfect for what we need as well as Mr. Muhammad being an African American male, which presents a positive role model, a positive image for our young boys and our young women as well,” she added.