Empowering Youth at Dulles Middle School
By: Detra Alton
The YMCA of Greater Houston has always valued its community partners within the Houston area. We understand that community partnerships are an effective way to achieve shared community impact goals. Strong partnerships create long lasting progress on issues related to community development, such as the development of Empowering Youth.
For the first time this fall, the YMCA of Greater Houston launched a partnership with Dulles Middle School, located in Fort Bend Independent School District (FBISD), by implementing the Y Teen L.I.F.E. (Leadership, Inspiration, Fellowship, Education) program on their campus. The Y Teen L.I.F.E. is a club-based program model that emphasize youth voice, youth engagement and youth leadership. It provides opportunities for youth to realize who they are and what they are capable of achieving, while making friends and memories along the journey.
Detra Alton, MBA – Director of Corporate Partnerships and Social Impact with the YMCA of Greater Houston sat down with the leadership of Dulles Middle School, Principal Dr. Reginald Brown, to discuss how the program has impacted the school, students and the community.
When I arrived at the school, the receptionist asked me to have a seat and to wait a moment. I could see from afar that Dr. Brown was walking the halls, chatting with his students and other educators – as he tried to make his way to greet me. After making our introductions, Dr. Brown asked if I would like to tour the school and I graciously agreed. As we walked through the hallways I watched as he greeted his staff, addressed his students by name and listened as he asked students how their day was going. Most replies were the normal response of fine, great, ok; but one student responded, “I am behaving below the line Dr. Brown.” Immediately Dr. Brown responded, “Then you must think of ways to get your behavior to above the line.” This statement intrigued me, but I was not quite sure what it fully meant at that moment.
As we made our way to the meeting room, I noticed a sign hanging on the wall that contained words at the top of a drawn line that read “Above the Line” while listing many positive thinking behaviors such as LEADERSHIP, HELPING OTHERS, KINDNESS, TAKE RESPONSIBILITY, HOPE, FIND BETTER WAYS, SOLUTION and more. Underneath the drawn line were “Below the Line” thinking behaviors such as FINDS FAULT, FEAR, GOSSIP, EXCUSES, NO CONTROL and more. Visually seeing this sign allowed me to understand the conversation Dr. Brown had with one of his students and how the partnership between our two organizations share a common goal; to make sure our youth find ways to stay “Above the Line” throughout their everyday life.
Dr. Reginald Brown has over 20 years of experience in the education system throughout FBISD and other school districts in the state of Texas. He first started his education career as a Special Education Teacher and then worked his way to the administration level. By watching his interactions with his staff and students, I can see how invested and dedicated he is to the school.
Having 20 years of experience in education, do you think community partnerships play an important role in an educational setting?
Absolutely! The school system cannot do this alone and, unfortunately, our students need multiple outlets of resources in order to become whole. The changing dynamics of family/home life, the cost to participate in additional programming can be astronomical for some students. Having strong community partners that can be present in the school, be hands on and help supplement while providing resources really benefits the development of our students.
How has the Y Teen L.I.F.E. program impacted the school and students?
IMPACT! Where do I begin when we start talking about impact? There are so many ways that the program has impacted our students. I’ll start with this critical point of impact; interactions. When many of our students go home, they may likely go home to an empty house as their guardians may still be at work and there is no human interaction upon arriving at home. Due to the program being located here on campus, the Y Teen L.I.F.E. program has created a path where students can stay here afterschool and have more peer interactions with guided conversations.
My second point of impact I want to highlight would be mind, body and spirit. When educators talk about wanting their students to be whole; we are speaking of them being whole in their mind, body and spirit. I like that this program is not about athletic ability, but it’s about developing your mind with conversations that surround current world events, social media and daily things that happen in their lives. This program is exercising the minds of our students, which is helping them to become whole, by exposing them to new things and conversations.
Dulles Middle School has such a diverse student body and the Y Teen L.I.F.E. program has been able to support a broad range of students with varying needs. This in itself is a powerful level of impact.
What’s the next step in helping the students move forward?
When I read the curriculum of the program I immediately wanted to get started with the partnership, as I felt this was something our students needed. We started the program this school year without a lot of fanfare. Moving forward I would like to work with the YMCA of Greater Houston to highlight the program more, which will allow us to reach more parents to get their student involved. I want everyone to know about this wonderful resource we have on campus and how it is a support for all students. I see no reason why we shouldn’t have two hundred students involved, as there is a need. Research shows that when kids are in a group, and they are involved in programs they do well in school. This is a group that can foster the improvement of school, home life and social interactions.
In the future I would like to see the YMCA of Greater Houston be more visible on our campus. I think if the YMCA Directors or Executives visited the campus to speak to our staff and parents about what the YMCA can offer, it will create more visibility. Everyone is familiar with the YMCA, seeing and hearing people from the YMCA may pique more interest from our student body. Even if it just as simple as having YMCA staff present in their YMCA shirts, that is creating visibility. The students will see this and want to know why they are here.
Moving forward I would also like to know what other programs or supports the YMCA can offer in regards to community outreach for our student population of varying needs.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Yes, there are so many campuses I know that can benefit from this program as well. I hope that the YMCA is able to expand this program throughout the district to other schools similar to Dulles Middle School. There are so many distractions in the world that take our students off the right path. The YMCA of Greater Houston is helping to remove those distractions, by helping us to provide the support students need. For Dulles Middle School this program is huge! Thank you to everyone involved in supporting this program at the YMCA of Greater Houston.
Counselor’s Point of View
While visiting the school, I also had the opportunity to speak with the Ilene Abarado, School Counselor and the on campus point of contact for the Y Teen L.I.F.E program:
What skills have your students experienced/learned since the implementation of the program?
Your program really teaches our students so many life skills as far as getting to know other peers through ice breakers and building conversation skills. These are skills students don’t necessarily get anymore, compared to kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s, so I feel like the skills that this program brings to our students are skills that they can use in the work force. It’s like they are collaborating with their potential colleagues.
There are some students in the program who I know are naturally shy individuals. I feel like those students use this space afterschool as a way to get to know other students that they would not encounter on a regular school day basis.
I feel like this program has created a bridge of communication between students and their parents. Many parents in middle school struggle with the communication piece at home. The program has given students more of a toolset for communicating in every aspect.
Parents are also looking for activities that will help build their child’s leadership skills. The leadership skill offered in this program is helping the students who may not get the student council position, or they may not be interested in student council, but this setup allows them to be a part of something where communication/leadership skills can be built.
Is there more that the YMCA of Greater Houston can offer to support the students?
Definitely, I see that the YMCA has a financial literacy weekend for teens. I really think additional programs like that would benefit our students. I think that a speech and debate program would benefit the children to assist with the thinking process. The ability to research and formulate your ideas and opinions is what our students need to be successful when they go to high school.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
There are so many middle schools that can benefit from this program. I really wish this program was in more middle schools. My son attends another middle in FBISD and I really wish this program was on his campus. My son needs this, as I recognize this as a school counselor. It would be great if the YMCA could branch this program out to other schools in the district.
Y Teen L.I.F.E. offers programs for middle and high school age students at locations across the Houston area. To learn more, visit our website.