Reconnecting Youth:
"In Their Own Words"
Reconnecting Youth: The Definition
According to its developers and the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), RY is a "proven, award-winning program that helps high-risk youth achieve in school and decrease drug use, anger, depression, and suicidal behavior. Designed for students aged 14-18, RY is a high school-based curriculum that uses small group skills training to enhance personal competencies and social support resources.  The program goals are: Increase school performance, decrease drug involvement, and decrease suicide-risk behaviors."
Reconnecting Youth: The Reality
According to us, RY is a miracle program and as people involved with RY, we have not only seen miracles, we've met them.  Because RY is such an amazing program, we have decided to highlight some of what we've heard in 2008.  Several RY students have given us permission to use their stories so that more people can learn about the positive impact RY has on schools, families and on each individual involved.  Prepare to be inspired...
"Good News from PHS"
Portland High School teacher, Beth Arsenault...
 
"All but one of our students passed the class for the 3rd quarter and attendance continues to be very good.  Our one student who didn't pass has actually decided to pursue a GED.  Interestingly, he chose to come to the RY class to share his decision with his classmates even after he had made the decision.  He did this of his own accord (at 7:45 am no less!) which, while a disappointing overall outcome, I think shows his connection with the class." 

"Additionally, another student who had been failing her courses with us is now passing as she has decided to 'turn over a new leaf.'  She, along with others has reported to us that she looks forward to this class and makes sure she doesn't miss it.  I guess they figure while they're here, they might as well go to their other classes and now they are seeing results.
"RY Appreciation"
The following statements are from a Deering RY 2-week checkup when students were asked to say a word of appreciation for RY so far. 
This is what they had to say:

"Since I have been in RY, already I am smoking less cigarettes and drinking less." (female)

"This group has made a big turnaround.  I feel like no one is going to question what I say now - and that it will stay here." (From a male student after the disruptive students were invited to join next semester and left)

"A good place to talk without feeling judged" (female)

"I like it because it's a good place to talk." (male)

"Trust.  Big trust.  It's not easy to get out there but here we can trust and get good advise." (female)

"Looking at the drug-use paper I was surprised how bad it was.  It helps you to realize what you don't realize." (male)

"It helps with my problems.  It helps me realize what's good and what's bad.  Understanding, no judging - not fake.  Real people." (female)

"I actually feel comfortable talking about anything and I know it won't go anywhere." (female)

"Everybody came in with their own groups.  Now we are one." (male)

"Rickey's Story"
Rickey is a young man with a powerful voice. Rickey shares with us his struggles and how he uncovered his strength...

"My name is Rickey.  I am a senior at Deering High School.  I am a child of abuse, neglect, and a child who was affected by watching my parents abuse drugs and alcohol.  When I heard about (RY) Reconnecting Youth, on average I was missing 7 - 10 days a month.  I was letting my senior year slip away from me.  I decided that I would join and try to get my senior year back into my control.  I'll admit I thought it would not help me, but I was destined to get help.  I committed myself to this program and opened myself to everyone allowing myself to be vulnerable and to be hurt." 

"The one thing that I realized was that I could feel safe in RY, and it was probably the only place that I wouldn't be judged.  RY helped me to change my attitude so that I would think before I reacted.  The other day I ran into my dad.  The only thing going through my head was to punch him out after all the hurt he put me through, after losing me to the State (DHHS) over 14 years ago.  The thing that hurt the most was that he and my mother chose drugs and alcohol over their own kids.  I decided to walk away, and just say to myself that I am better than that and that he is not worth it.  I owe this to the 2008 RY class and now I am on track to graduate knowing one thing - I am not my parents."

"Kourtney's Notes"
One Deering student who has come so far this year writes her thoughts on:
Goal Setting - "Setting goals for myself was one of the best things that I have done in this class.  Most of the goals I've set for myself in this class I have accomplished and am very proud about that."

Progress Checks - "The progress checks were sort of a shocker to me.  I didn't know how bad I was doing until I kept a log on it, realizing that I had to make changes and step it up."

Self-Esteem - "Positive self talk was something that I had a lot of trouble with.  I was always negative towards myself but never towards other people.  Being in this class has really uplifted my thinking on myself.  I'm not so hard on myself anymore.  I am beautiful and full of care for myself and am a positive thinker now."

Monitoring Tools - "Monitoring my drug-use was a very helpful step for me.  Noticing and keeping track of my consumption of drugs really opened my eyes to notice that I wasn't taking care of myself.  Monitoring my attendance - wow - it was amazing and I am proud of myself for understanding how important it is to attend classes!  I actually haven't missed one day in the past three weeks!"

Showing Support - "I never really had a problem with supporting people.  But now I have just improved on it.  (There is always room for improvement!)  I tell it like it is and I hope you can handle the truth."

Decision Making - "Making good decisions was a struggle for me.  I always wanted to be like everyone else.  But now I know when I am in a situation that makes me uncomfortable I know what to do and I have people I can call." 

"Sara's Success"
This year, Deering HS "branded" their RY class with T-shirts that read "STAFF" on the back and this is what "STAFF" meant to her -- and she bravely shared it with the Portland City council on April 17th!  Go Sara!
S - Strength
T - Trust
A - Attitude
F - Foundation
F - Family
 
Do you believe in miracles yet? 
National Attention for Portland's RY! 
Author, asset champion, and creator of
Pass the Torch, Kelly Curtis (a Search Institute partner) selected Deering High's RY stories to be highlighted in her monthly blog "Passing The Torch With Writing!" 
This is so very exciting because now people around the entire country will get to learn more about RY and it's amazing power!  Check it out!
http://2passthetorch.com/2008/05/12/passing-the-torch-with-writing/

We also shared these stories with the RY developers and they were so thrilled to hear about the success of Portland's RY programs that they will also be spotlighting Portland's RY on their website!
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Reconnecting Youth
"The focus of the class is on skills training within the context of adult and peer support. The RY class is comprised of 10-12 students and meets daily, or on a block schedule, for an entire semester. The class is part of the high-school curriculum, and students receive credit for participation." 
www.reconnectingyouth.com

Freedom Writers "positively impacts communities by decreasing high school drop out rates through the replication and enhancement of the Freedom Writers Method." Academy Award Winning actress Hilary Swank starred in the movie, Freedom Writers based on Long Beach, CA teacher Erin Gruwell's experience. www.freedomwritersfoundation.org

Wonder Writers is a "not-for-profit organization...created to encourage writing and to give a place for everyone to publish their work. The mission is to promote the interest of writing for children of all ages."  www.wonderwriters.com

Ronni Katz and I would like to thank Diane Tinkham (DHS), Beth Arsenault & Sophie Payson-Rand (PHS) and Mike Clifford (Portland Public Schools) for all of their support and input; their hard work and unending dedication to this program and to the students is so much of what makes it a success.  We also want to congratulate the Deering students on their courage for taking their stories to the City Council in April and be sure to look for them on May 21 as they bring their message of hope to the Portland School Committee!!
-Amanda Edgar

One Maine One Portland Mission:
To foster nurturing and healthy relationships, environments and programs that encourage positive youth development and enable all young people in Greater
Portland to live substance free.

City of Portland Public Health Division, Health & Human Services Department
www.substanceabuse.portlandmaine.gov