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Top Five Tips for New Graduates: Real World Advice

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Another graduating class is walking across the stage with their degrees and turning their tassels as new graduates. You are now equipped with the knowledge, skills, and training from your respective majors/specializations.  After celebrating such a humongous life milestone, reality slowly starts to creep in as you recognize that you are one of thousands new graduates.  You have now completed 2-4+ years of higher education to obtain a piece of paper in a field you (will hopefully) enjoy with the seal of your learning institution… now what?  The “now what” part has baffled many who have been in your shoes, including yours truly.

degreeThis is a very important time in your life, especially if you are one of the 50+ million Americans who are under the age of 30.  This is the time where you decide what direction your life goes, how you will begin to develop your career path, when you want to start a family, gain a better grasp of your life’s mission, where you would like to live (within the country and/or abroad), and other major life decisions.

I recently came across Clinical Psychologist Meg Jay’s video on TED.com titled, Why 30 is not the new 20.  Her message was a real eye-opener for myself, and it allowed me to realize that I have been viewing my 20s in the right perspective.  Your 20s are the stepping stone into adulthood, and what you accomplish or do not accomplish during this time can (and from Dr. Jay’s message, will) greatly affect your life circumstances in your 30s, 40s, and beyond.

I strongly urge all new graduates to view this video as it was impactful enough on me to begin writing this article.  It revealed to me the real world advice I am about to share (that stemmed from my own experiences) with you was greatly needed, and I hope that this advice will be helpful to my fellow 20-somethings (and those young at heart who are also embarking on new career paths after obtaining their degrees).

Real World Advice #5:  Begin to save for retirement now!

When you get that first job, try your hardest to save, save, save, as much as you can.  Though you may not believe that you are earning enough to save (especially if you have student loan payments, car note and insurance, rent/mortgage, paying high gas prices, buying groceries, and trying to maintain a social life), saving what you can now will definitely benefit you later on in life.

As reported in USA Today, Millennials seem to be better at saving for the future than Baby Boomers were during this particular time in life.  One of the main reasons for this is the uncertainty of Social Security still being available for Millennials in 30-40 years when we reach the age of retirement (which is likely to rise as we are living longer).  Though those in the news article have saved a substantial amount for someone in their 20s and early 30s, this should not discourage anyone from beginning to save what you can now.  Even if you were to save $100-$300 (I am aware that this amount may not be very realistic for some of you, but continue to follow my point) every pay period, that would jump start a nice savings “nest egg” for you.  This nest egg could make the difference in how you view an unexpected layoff or having to replace the battery or tires on your vehicle.

Real World Advice #4:  Learn about the Federal Student Loan Repayment options NOW!

It amazes me how little college graduates and graduate students know about the repayment plan options offered by the Department of Education when it comes to subsidized and unsubsidized student loans.  When I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in 2008, there were not many repayment options available outside of standard, extended, graduated, forbearance, and deferment options.  Now, because of the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare), there are several new repayment plan options that correlate with how much you are making (or not making) once you graduate.  These new repayment plans are:  the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan, the Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plan, the Pay As You Earn Repayment plan, and the Income-Sensitive Repayment plan.  If you meet the income qualifications, these plans may lower your repayment balance to an amount that is more financially feasible (and most importantly, keep you from defaulting on your student loans).

Remember, it is easier to get debtors (whether it is the federal government or other collectors) to understand your financial situation BEFORE you owe them (or are late in making a payment) than when you’re on the brink of defaulting.  As with the saving tip, being financially responsible is imperative to having a good credit score, as well as to being able to afford that dream home and providing yourself and your future family with the necessities and (every now and then) luxuries in life.

Real World Advice #3:  Learn all you can on your first job, even if it is totally the opposite of what you really want to do in your career.

Some of you may find yourself accepting a job offer that is totally NOT want you had envisioned after obtaining your college or postgraduate degree.  There could be a number of reasons for this:  the position has NOTHING to do with your major/degree specialization; you are earning pennies to what is average for someone with your education and training; you have spotted the dysfunctions within the work environment (remember, every workplace has its quirks, but you quickly recognize the difference between quirks and just downright unprofessional, unethical, and self-esteem draining environment); not within your interest scope; leadership is questionable and/or nonexistent; or you just do not see yourself lasting more than 2-3 years (which may be a generous time estimate).

We have ALL been there, wondering what in the devil am I doing in this place, for “x” amount of hours, 5-7 days a week?  If this is you, then know that you are not alone.  Even if your current job is truly the pits, there is something to be learned from this experience.

For example, let’s say that you have noticed the lack of strong leadership with your supervisor or a lack of cohesion within management in regards to the way the agency/company operates.  It is hard to learn from that kind of setting while in the thick of things, but YOU CAN.  If you desire to incorporate your own business one day, then take note of what is going on with the leadership.  Where does the dysfunction exist?  Is there a lack of support between team members?  Are there communication issues?  Do people expect others to “worship” them because of the position they hold (basically, the egomaniacs)?  Is there a lack of support if there are issues/concerns – is the infamous “open door policy” nonexistent?

If any of these, and more, are some of the issues you have spotted within management, take away the key learning points.  You realize the damage these issues will have on the teamwork, work morale, and overall operations within an agency; do your best to keep the company you want to develop from going down the same path.

Do realize that your first job will not be your ONLY job, especially as Millennials are known to be the generation that will pursue several different career paths during our lifetime.  If your first job post-graduation is not what you had hoped for, remember that the skills, knowledge, and training you acquire while employed will help you establish yourself further as a professional and better prepare you for that next employment opportunity that will better suit your professional interests.

Real World Advice #2:  Being an individual is NOT a bad thing; go against the grain.

This one is key – sometimes you have to stand alone in what you want to do in order to make a difference.  This seems to be so cliche, but trust me, it is VERY true.  It is easy to get caught up in a routine:  wake up, go to work, come home, eat, chat, and watch tv, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day.  What fun is that, really?  Why become a “manufactured” being?  Why not branch out and do something new and innovative?  “New and innovative” does not mean that your work has to be ground-breaking; it means that you are establishing/creating/developing/implementing something with the idea of it having a positive impact on the world, once you are no longer here.  Be reminded that being a trendsetter/originator does not occur overnight; it may be a slow process, but the work you will accomplish at the end is well worth the long hours, sleepless nights, stress, and miss spending your free time with family and friends.  One of my personal goals is when I come to the end of my life, I hope that forcing myself to be an individual and ensuring that my actions and work to empower and uplift others would have afforded me the opportunity to leave a positive mark (or in my case, tire mark) on the world.  I am aware that developing the career and life that I desire will come with sacrifices, but I am willing to endure those sacrifices if it means that my presence and determination has affected the lives those I serve in a meaningful way.

Real World Advice #1:  While job searching, figure out your real passion.

For some of you, you may be lucky to have a job lined up before you walked across that stage.  For a good majority, however, you may be on several job search engine websites applying for a plethora of jobs day in, day out.  The stress of job-searching can be hard, especially when you see your classmates and friends expressing their happiness about getting the confirmation call about the job they interviewed for on social media.  Deep down, you are happy for them, but a tiny part of you is wondering, “when is my breakthrough coming?”  Trust me, I have been there.  When I graduated with my Master’s last year, it was difficult witnessing others gaining employment while I was stuck at home putting in application after application for jobs that I really did not want, or being called for interviews for positions that paid way less for someone with the level of education I had.

Inbetween applying and going for interviews, I took the time to figure out what made my heart sing, a popular statement uttered by one of my graduate professors.  One thing that I started was my Tumblr blog; I always loved writing (and received positive remarks from professors and friends about my writing), so I thought, why not share my thoughts/ideas about the world around me to millions online?  I also began volunteering for the Presidential campaign, since I wanted to become more community-focused (I’m a Macro Social Worker through and through).  Taking the time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my degree and my overall career goals made me realize that none of the jobs I had been applying for fit within the macro social work mold I loved.

So I am urging each of you to do what I did – use your free time to develop your passions, and see where they may lead you.  Who knows, you may wind up pursuing your passion as a career choice.

I hope that my advice will help those who are nervous, anxious, and worried about the future after graduation.  The reason we worry about the future is because we do not have control over it or know what to expect.  It is only after we learn how to learn to let go and be conscious and realistic about what we can and what we cannot control, is when we will effectively release that feeling of anxiety about the unknown when it comes to our future.

17 Comments

No tips ever prepare you x

Kersh Givens Kersh Givens says:

Article was ok. But fyi not all new grads are in their 20’s…

Thank you for sharing….I think social workers should have more classes in our education that develops business acumen. This is good information.

susana says:

Real World Advice #5: Begin to save for retirement now!

Why is it important? Last week, I had the opportunity learn from the honorable Henry Cisneros of CityView, who spoke about income, wealth, and the bottom line – our need to save for retirement. Mr. Cisneros was the keynote of a well-attended retirement symposium sponsored by the County of San Diego. He emphasized the importance of understanding the difference between earning an income (spending for necessities) and obtaining wealth (anything you have as holdings, savings, stocks, bonds, insurance, paid off items – car, house, etc). It’s a conversation; we need to have more often as social workers to empower the people we work with and to establish and safe, secure and stable “quality of life” for ourselves upon retirement. This is particularly important for people of more color (esp. Blacks and Browns) because County Tax-Collector Treasurer Dan McAllister showed some dire stats which highlighted the fact we are simply not saving and investing enough for our futures according to the 2010 Ariel Black Investor Survey that was presented by Mellody Hobson at a previous symposium. Black and Latino investment participation rates were at 68% and 66% respectively compared to Asian Americans who invested at 80% and Whites followed at 79%. I should point out this national survey focused on middle income earners, but I firmly believe we have to move beyond economic class when it comes to establishing savings, financial planning, and positively shaping our economic future. The time to save more is now. What’s next? Learn more about Planning for Retirement here and have conversations with those you engage and see what can be applied so we can secure a comfortable future.

Click the link to view Surveys re: the Savings Disparities Across cross Racial and Ethnic Groups: http://www.arielinvestments.com/landmark-surveys/

susana says:

Top Five Tips for New Graduates: Real World Advice by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW http://t.co/X2kd9tr99v #socialwork #advice #future #passion

Rachel West says:

RT @swhelpercom: Top Five Tips for New Graduates: Real World A… http://t.co/YPzjzi184o via socialworkhelper

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SWhelper says:

Thank you Charlene….I will make note of this to get an article out on compassion fatigue and vicarious Trauma. This is something sws encounter all the time but is often left to identify and treat themselves.

Charlene Richard says:

Great tips – I wish I had of read this after graduation! And please please please learn about Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma. Keep yourself safe and healthy while you empathize with people.

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V. Thompson, LMSW says:

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Roxy says:

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Education

Teaching Self-Advocacy at Home Pt. II

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In part I, we discussed how parents can introduce the concept of self-advocacy with the use of sentence frames, conversation pointers, and self-reflection. Once children begin to understand their needs at home and school, self-advocating becomes much easier.

Self-advocacy is all about speaking up. 

Listening is also a primary part of getting the information that you need. Therefore, when instructing children on how to voice their needs, parents should be sure to stress the fact that listening is a key component of self-advocacy. Whenever children ask a question, voice a concern, or seek a response, they must be prepared to listen and absorb the information that they receive. Parents can discuss how eye contact allows other people to recognize that they have your attention.

Additionally, body position and nodding are obvious cues that you are engaged and listening. All of these practices demonstrate active listening skills and help children fully absorb or comprehend the response or information that they are getting. When children ask a question, they should be able to paraphrase the response and formulate a follow-up or clarifying question if necessary. This demonstrates whether or not they were actively listening.

As young learners, children are just beginning to understand themselves as students, which means that their learning needs are somewhat unknown to them. Parents can ask questions like, “What are you good at?” “What do you often need help doing?” “How do you feel that you learn best?” and “When do you think that learning is the most difficult?” Answers to these questions will vary and change as children develop skills for managing their academic progress, but the ability to self-reflect is an essential component of self-advocacy.

Again, practicing sentence frames and hypothetical scenarios can help put children at ease when it comes time for them to advocate for themselves when their parents are not there to speak for them. Remind children that they can and should ask questions when they are confused about something, especially at school.

Parents can also coach children on how to ask direct and specific questions. As opposed to, “Is this good?” or “Is this right?” Children should practice zoning in on concepts that are true roadblocks. In narrowing in on the specific question or need, children will obtain a more specific and helpful response.

Parents should encourage children to vocalize their confusion, stress, worries, or desire for help readily. The whole purpose of school is to seek and gain knowledge and experiences that propel them forward. In this sense, the more children ask, the more they will know.

Explain to them that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. For exceptionally shy children, encourage them to speak to the teacher or adult off to the side or one-on-one, instead of in front of the whole class. This will ease them into the concept of self-advocacy by removing the peer attention and anxiety that speaking up in a full classroom may bring.

For children with IEP or 504 accommodations, parents should be especially clear with children about requesting their accommodations and supplementary aides. Of course, this comes with practice and familiarity with their own educational plan, however, children with specific learning needs benefit greatly from their ability to take an active role in vocalizing these needs.

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Building Abroad: Local Teen’s Passion Impacts Young Minds in Jamaica

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Rafe Cochran and his parents, Diahann and Jay Cochran, stand in front of the new Runaway Bay All-Age School he built through Food For The Poor in St. Ann, Jamaica. Rafe dedicated the school to his parents and grandparents, Susan P. Cochran and Mr. and Mrs. Romero, during the inauguration ceremony on Aug. 31, 2018. This is the second school the teen has built in Jamaica, thanks to the Annual Rafe Cochran Golf Classic fundraiser.
(Photo/Food For The Poor)

Thirteen-year-old Rafe Cochran of Palm Beach, Fla., returned to school this week as an eighth-grader at Palm Beach Day Academy after opening his second school built in Jamaica through Food For The Poor.

The new Runaway Bay All-Age School in St. Ann has six classrooms, an office for staff, and bathrooms with sanitation to provide more than 400 students a secure building as they returned to school this week. Dozens of parents, teachers, students, and community leaders gathered to meet and thank the young man who made their dream of a new school building a reality during the Aug. 31 ceremony.

“To give the gift of a second school in Jamaica is an honor and truly feels rewarding,” Rafe said. “The gift of education is so important to me because I feel education empowers one’s life. I also feel proud to have the doors of the Runaway Bay All-Age School of Determination open. It is a wonderful feeling knowing I have been a part of enriching other children’s lives.”

Runaway Bay was made possible by the Third Annual Rafe Cochran Golf Classic. Dozens of local golfers teed up for the charity tournament in April at the Mayacoo Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach. Rafe began golfing at the age of 6, at age 9 he became one of Food For The Poor’s youngest donors, and at age 11 he hosted his first golf tournament using his talents to raise money to build homes in Haiti and schools in Jamaica.

“How many people can say that they have built 10 homes and two schools in two different countries by time they were 13 years old?” Food For The Poor President/CEO Robin Mahfood said. “Rafe’s philanthropic efforts are astounding and Food For The Poor is deeply appreciative of his generosity. Ten Haitian families now have safe and secure homes, and schoolchildren for generations to come will benefit from the two schools in Jamaica. We also want to salute Rafe’s parents for instilling these priceless values in their young son and for their support.”

The school’s principal, Lambert Pearson, and staff also expressed tremendous gratitude to Rafe, his parents and to Food For The Poor for coming to their aid after they had waited more than a decade for a new school, which will accommodate kindergarten to sixth grade. Pearson opened up his speech at the inauguration by singing.

“Thank you, thank you for all you have done… today my wait is over,” Pearson sang.

While in Jamaica, Rafe and his parents, Jay and Diahann Cochran, visited the first school. The family was happy to see Chester Primary and Infant School, also located in St. Ann, is well- maintained, the students are excelling, and that the school population has grown. The Cochrans helped to paint the exterior walls of Runaway Bay a cheery yellow, along with a calming blue and a bold red.

“Rafe has impressed his whole family and shown us all the deep compassion he has for others,” Jay Cochran said. “We believe that Rafe’s ability to look beyond himself and to help the less fortunate will undoubtedly influence the younger generations. Rafe is a remarkable young man –we can’t wait to see what he will accomplish in the future and the people he will touch with his generosity and compassion.”

In addition to donating hundreds of backpacks and school supplies for staff and students, the Cochrans wanted the new school to have a system in place to capture rainwater.

Rafe also did something that he hopes will motivate current and future students of Runaway Bay All-Age School.

“I gave each classroom in the new school a special name that really represents traits that one should aspire to have,” Rafe said. “I chose the Room of Motivation, the Room of Integrity, the Room of Compassion, the Room of Kindness, the Room of Endurance, the Room of Confidence, and the Room of Respect. I feel each word gives a person character and to have good character means you have traits that make you honest and admirable.”

As Rafe embraces the start of the new school year, he’s already entertaining the thought of future projects and the possibility of another school.

“I will continue helping one person, one family, and one school at a time in order to make a difference,” said Rafe. “I always say, you’re never too young to take action and make a difference!”

To learn more about Rafe’s Food For The Poor projects visit: www.FoodForThePoor.org/rafe

In addition to raising the funds to build his second school through Food For The Poor, Rafe Cochran, 13, also distributed backpacks and school supplies to students at the inauguration ceremony of Runaway Bay All-Age School in St. Ann, Jamaica, on Aug. 31, as his father Jay Cochran looked on. (Photo/Food For The Poor)

Dozens of parents, teachers, students and community leaders attended the Aug. 31, inauguration ceremony of the new Runaway Bay All-Age School in St. Ann, Jamaica. The six-classroom school was built by Rafe Cochran, 13, of Palm Beach, Fla., through Food For The Poor in Jamaica. This is the second school the teen has built in Jamaica, thanks to the Annual Rafe Cochran Golf Classic fundraiser. (Photo/Food For The Poor)

In addition to raising funds to build his second school through Food For The Poor, Rafe Cochran,13, also distributed back packs and school supplies to students at the inauguration ceremony of Runaway Bay All-Age School in St. Ann, Jamaica, on Aug. 31.
(Photo/Food For The Poor)

While in Jamaica for the inauguration of Runaway Bay All-Age School, Rafe Cochran and his parents visited Chester Primary and Infant School, which is the first school Rafe built through Food For The Poor in St. Ann. Rafe took time to read to the younger students who are reportedly excelling as the student population continues to grow. (Photo/Food For The Poor)

Before the Aug. 31, inauguration ceremony of the new Runaway Bay All-Age School in St. Ann, Jamaica, which Rafe Cochran built through Food For The Poor, his mother Diahann Cochran helped paint the foundation of the school a bold shade of red. This is the second school the teen has built in Jamaica, thanks to the Annual Rafe Cochran Golf Classic fundraiser. (Photo/Food For The Poor)

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Link Between Divorce and Graduate Education a Concern as More Jobs Require Advanced Degree

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Children of divorce are less likely to earn a four-year or graduate degree, according to new research from Iowa State University.

The study, published in the Journal of Family Issues, is one of the first to look specifically at divorce and graduate education. Susan Stewart, professor of sociology, says it is important to understand this relationship as more jobs require a graduate or professional degree.

Stewart and co-authors Cassandra Dorius, assistant professor of human development and family studies; and Camron Devor, lead author and Iowa State alumna, found 27 percent of children with divorced parents had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 50 percent of those with married parents. The split was 12 percent versus 20 percent for those who had or were working toward a graduate or professional degree.

The researchers analyzed 15 years of data collected through the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. The survey followed thousands of youth as they transition from school to work in young adulthood. The last round of data used for this study was collected when youth were 26 to 32 years old.

The data allowed researchers to look at the influence of human (parental education and income) and social (parental social and emotional investment in children) capital. They found married parents were more educated than divorced parents, and there was a significant difference in income. Nearly half of the children with married parents were in the high income category (greater than $246,500/year) compared to 29 percent of children of divorced parents.

“After divorce, for both men and women, incomes take a hit. It takes much longer for that income to recover and for women especially, it never does,” Stewart said. “You are essentially starting over and much of the income that would have gone to a child’s education is sucked up with all the transitions that are part of divorce.”

Time for change?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs requiring a master’s degree are expected to grow by nearly 17 percent between 2016 and 2026. This includes careers ranging from mental health counselors to librarians to elementary and secondary school administrators. Devor, who earned a master’s degree in sociology in 2014, says she wouldn’t have her job as a finance coordinator had she not gone to graduate school.

However, the findings were somewhat surprising to Devor based on her experience at Iowa State. She says several of her classmates in graduate school were children of divorce. Recognizing that this is not always the norm, Devor would like to see the research signal a change.

“This could affect divorce proceedings for child support and the amount that is factored in for college,” Devor said. “In most divorce proceedings, child support cuts off at 18. Just because a child turns 18, that does not mean they still do not need help financially from their family.”

Child’s age matters, to a degree

Children who were still at home or under age 18 when their parents divorced did not fare as well as children who were 18 and older. The research found the odds of those younger children earning a bachelor’s degree were 35 percent lower. However, there was no relationship between the child’s age at the time of divorce and the likelihood of getting a graduate or professional degree.

The researchers also found parents had similar educational expectations for their children, regardless of whether they were divorced or married. Parental expectations were positively associated with children earning a master’s degree. Dorius says children of divorce may feel less entitled to a college degree, so it should help them to know their parents have high educational aspirations for them. However, that encouragement is not enough to offset the relationship between divorce and graduate education.

“This suggests that parental divorce continues to have an effect on children’s graduate school success even after accounting for the encouragement parents give to their children,” Dorius said. “It’s important for future research to look at other inadequacies in social capital that may affect long-term educational success for these children.”

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Helping Your Kid Transition Back to School

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As we help our sons and daughters get ready to return to school, let’s reflect on our own readiness to promote our kids’ best emotional development during the school year. Consider these dimensions:

Responsibility:

Resist the urge to become the homework police. Let them take responsibility for homework; let them approach it in their own way. Assignments might not get done as well as we’d like, but limiting ourselves to only a simple reminder allows children to build a sense of personal agency. Beyond that rests between them and their teachers (see June 2014).

Brain development:

Neuroscience has revealed the centrality of adequate sleep in consolidating the day’s learning — athletic and academic — especially the night before a performance or important test (see Sept/Oct 2014). And be alert to the risks of bright screens before bedtime (see June 2018).

Resilience:

It builds each time kids encounter and survive moments of ordinary childhood adversity. Rarely rescue by delivering their lunch or the schoolwork they left behind that morning; they’ll survive. And rarely fight their battles for them with classmates or teachers — just offer empathy and a strong vote of confidence that they will find ways to work things out (see November 2011).

Self-esteem I:

It develops in part when they do for themselves all that they’re capable of doing, rather than depending on us to find their sweater, solve their math problems or tidy up after their snack. Insist they get themselves out of bed on school mornings, dress and gather their belongings, and leave the house on time (or face the school’s consequences if they show up late).

Self-esteem II:

Feeling authentically worthy develops through being loved and validated for qualities of good character and simply for being a valued part of our lives, not for earning certain grades or demonstrating athletic prowess. Show delight just to greet the kids at the end of the school day, without racing to ask, How was the test? (See The New Self-Esteem).

Humility:

Help them understand that they aren’t the center of the universe, that their individual wants and needs (like homework, practice or a friend’s slumber party) cannot always trump the needs of others (like family dinner time, a sibling’s piano recital or grandma’s birthday party). Our kids do well to learn that they’re no better or no less than any of their classmates…and that respectful behavior toward their teachers must be unwavering.

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What Schools Can Do To Reduce Risky Behaviors and Suicides Among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth

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A high school English teacher in New Mexico told me about one of his students who had difficulty focusing in class. When the teacher showed concern, the student confided in him that her parents had kicked her sister out of the house after they found out she was dating a girl. The teacher tried his best to console the student and referred her to the school counselors for help.

The next year, the same girl sought his support when her parents took similar punitive measures against her because she, too, came out as a lesbian. This time he spoke openly with her, explaining that she had to keep her spirits up; that no matter what happened, she had to be true to herself. In concluding the story for me, the teacher explained that he knows the school needs to be a safe place in a community that may not accept his student. But even though he strives to create a safe environment, he does not think all staff people or students at the school are equally accepting.

At another high school, I heard something quite different. When asked about the experience of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students, an administrator responded – simply and implausibly – “We don’t have any of those kids at this school.”

Such accounts from teachers, administrators, nurses, and counselors illustrate the importance of schools and school staff for students struggling with their sexual orientation in a world that does not always support or even acknowledge their existence. Paradoxically, schools are often the only places lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth may find marginally more accepting than the surrounding community – and of course schools may not be more accepting. The everyday traumas experienced by these youth, especially when they find themselves in schools that ignore their needs, can put lesbian, gay, and bisexual students at increased risk for depression, substance misuse, and suicide.

Research Links Suicide to Sexuality

According to the Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than two-fifths of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth have seriously contemplated suicide. These young people are three times more likely to think about taking their own lives than their straight peers and four times more likely to actually plan and attempt suicide.

In addition to risk of suicide, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are twice as likely to be bullied or threatened with a weapon on campus and three times more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe. Risk behaviors that could result in negative health outcomes are also prevalent at a higher rate among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. For example, such young people have higher rates of smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, misusing prescription medicines, and using dangerous drugs including cocaine and heroin.

These statistics underline serious threats to many American young people. What can be done? The Center for Disease Control has identified several evidence-based ways to reduce the risk of suicide and risk behaviors among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth – by creating safer and more supportive school environments. So far, however, these strategies have not been fully or consistently implemented, and they are only rarely combined to create an optimum response.

How Schools Can Help

Schools are a critical point of intervention because they are the places where students spend most of their waking hours. When it comes to reducing risky or suicidal behaviors, schools are second in importance only to families. School nurses and counselors also often provide the first line of response to student medical or behavioral health issues. In rural settings where resources can be scarce, the school or school-based health center may be the main place students can find support or help. Based on available evidence, the Center for Disease Control has defined several strategies that can be adopted and combined to ensure that all American young people are supported and protected, regardless of their sexual orientation. According to these recommendations, schools can take the following steps – and, to date, only eight percent of schools do all.

  • Create “safe spaces” like a designated classroom, office, or student organization where students can receive support from school staff or other students. Only about 60% of schools currently have such spaces available.
  • Prohibit bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender expression. Most schools report having such policies in place, but a fraction of them do not.
  • Facilitate access to medical health and behavioral health providers with experience serving lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Fewer than half of US. high schools facilitate such access.
  • Promote professional lessons on how staff can create safe and supportive school environments. Less than 60% of high schools provide this type of support to their faculty.
  • Deliver health education that includes information relevant to lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Only one-fourth of U.S. schools do this.

These strategies are an important way to address the needs of not only lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, but may also help transgender and gender non-conforming students as well. Unfortunately, research on these subgroups and programs to help them remains to be done. An important recent development is the inclusion a gender identity question in the 2017 Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey.

Recognizing the existence of sexual and gender minorities in America’s schools and gathering large-scale data about their experiences can provide a clearer picture of the challenges various groups of students face – and, in turn, allow improved responses to their needs. By creating safer and more supportive school environments, we can reduce dangerous behaviors, eliminate many suicides, and improve academic and health outcomes, not only for sexual and gender minority youth, but also for all other students in our schools. Problems and tragedies that affect some students reverberate among many – and undermine America’s future.

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Education

Teachers Aren’t Receiving the Support They Need, but You Can Help

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Better school funding, better pay, and better benefits, these are a few of the demands fueling teachers’ recent strikes and walkouts across the U.S., including those in Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado, West Virginia, and Oklahoma. In the wake of the action, these states have taken the first steps to improve school funding.

However, many would argue that we still have a long way to go before we can honestly say that teachers are compensated fairly or that schools have the right supplies to provide a proper education and a healthy learning environment.

We have a lot of work to do, and speaking up is just the beginning. Education is one of the rare issues in which we can make a profound difference on a local level. Along with choosing to participate in strikes or attend walkouts, consider these five ways you can support teachers, both locally and nationwide:

1. Support teachers and schools financially.

There is a significant disparity in the amount of funding that each school receives, which creates a huge quality gap. According to our “Classroom Trends” report, teachers spend an average of $381 of their own money on classroom supplies each year. The problem is worse in regions with lower educational funding, where teachers are forced to spend a yearly average of nearly $500 on classroom supplies. That expense is deducted from a salary that’s already low compared to other professions with similar levels of education and experience.

By donating books, school supplies, or money, you can help offset that high out-of-pocket cost. Check out DonorsChoose, an organization that makes it easy to fund projects at specific schools. To take a more hands-on approach, you can visit schools near you, learn about their needs, and then hold a fundraiser to address those needs.

If you’re unable to make in-kind donations, consider offering gift cards from your business or place of work. You can also offer exclusive teacher appreciation discounts to show your support. Because teachers are spending a lot out of pocket, anything you can do to lessen that burden helps. For example, at Staples, teachers can earn rewards for classroom purchases and up to 10 percent cash back.

If you simply cannot afford to make a financial donation, consider shopping from businesses that support teachers. There are several companies with a dedication to education, even if their industry does not directly correlate. For example, WeAreTeachers recently partnered with Kinsa, a smart thermometer company, to give away 15,000 thermometers. While thermometers aren’t traditionally considered school supplies and are, therefore, excluded from lists, they are essential for stopping the flu and other viruses from spreading throughout schools.

2. Take the time to fully understand education issues.

Regardless of your political preference, it’s important to understand both local and national education issues. Doing research on the issues facing your community is your civic duty, regardless of whether you are a parent or whether you work directly for a school district, because a poorly educated generation will eventually result in a poorly educated population.

Visit sites like Chalkbeat and Education Week to learn about region-specific concerns and local events. There are also local Facebook groups you can participate in to discuss education issues and learn about the schools in your area. If you want to educate yourself on national issues, try consulting larger organizations like the PTA.

It’s fitting that the key to a better education system is learning. Simply being knowledgeable about the issues can inspire progress and keep the education system at the top of our minds, both in local communities and on a larger scale.

3. Create free curriculum resources.

Teachers are often looking for resources to bring into their classrooms. Some companies and organizations dedicate an entire section of their websites to providing educational materials to teachers, like this one by NASA. If you’re in a position to do so, consider developing, sharing, or distributing free materials that could fill a gap at a local or national level.

For example, we know that teachers are often looking for financial literacy resources to help their students understand money skills. At MDR, we’ve worked with the charitable arms at financial corporations to develop free lessons that meet that need for teachers. Through partnerships like this, we can all come together to educate the next generation.

4. Lead by example.

The media’s coverage of education issues tends to be negative, sometimes even blaming teachers for issues they have little or no control over. But sharing your support of educators via social media, on your website, or in everyday conversations can counteract that negativity.

Of course, pairing action with verbal support is the best way to advocate for teachers, but don’t underestimate the powerful effect of words on their own. For example, you might post on social media about local teachers’ classroom projects or even mention your favorite classroom project to your friends at trivia night.

5. Volunteer at a school.

Perhaps the most valuable investment you can make is your time. Volunteering can not only provide much-needed help in our nation’s schools, but it can also help you understand some of the issues teachers face firsthand. Consider bringing your friends along, too, and empower people in your community to advocate for changes in our education system.

If you still need more convincing, take a look at this study from United Healthcare that reports the ways volunteering positively affects mental and physical health. Simply put, helping others also helps you. Confused about where to start? Check out organizations like Reading Partners that have a plethora of volunteer opportunities for anyone looking to get involved.

Most importantly, even though it’s highly politicized in today’s headlines, remember that education is essential to our nation at the most basic level. We are educating the people who will eventually run our country, our businesses, and our communities. We have to care. We have to help where we can. Otherwise, we’re setting ourselves up for even bigger problems in the future.

 

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