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In ten Boston classrooms last year, students who habitually “acted out” were handed cameras and asked to document the things that angered them and offended their sense of justice. Their images ranged from the commonplace to the profound, everything from a crumbling school bathroom to a sidewalk memorial for a murdered youngster. After participants wrote about their photos, they created a school-wide exhibit. And in the process, remarkable things happened.
“You’ve taken these youngsters who are angry at the world and suddenly they’re being celebrated by the entire school community,” said Gil Noam, EdD, PhD (Habil), founder and director of the Program in Education, Afterschool and Resiliency (PEAR), who created the 12-week curriculum with his team of clinicians and researchers. “They’ve learned to express their concerns collectively and creatively without acting out toward individuals.”
Photo Justice, as the intervention is called, is classic PEAR. It takes adolescents who struggle with any number of issues—sadness, anxiety, attention problems—and provides them with targeted activities and support that will help them learn, grow, and thrive. The program perfectly represents PEAR’s grounding in developmental and psychological theory: intervene early before issues fester; encourage positive peer and adult relationships; and cultivate resiliency by nurturing strengths rather than focusing only on deficits. PEAR’s model works because it has been tested, refined, and measured for efficacy and weaves together the worlds of education, psychiatry, and youth development in a manner that is innovative, deliberate, and seamless.
Founded in the late 1990s to address the disconcertingly large number of adolescents with a psychiatric illness or at risk of developing one, PEAR is now at an exciting crossroads. Building on years of translational research and hands-on work in educational settings, Noam and his staff are now training cadres of leaders in education, mental health, and youth development to carry out resiliency building work in a growing number of school, afterschool and summer settings.
This relatively new arm of the program, PEAR Impact, works with almost a dozen school districts and organizations throughout the region and country, including City Year and the Boston Opportunity Agenda (a partnership among the City of Boston, Boston Public Schools, and local funders working to improve educational outcomes).
PEAR Impact is currently training City Year managers from 24 metropolitan areas. They in turn will pass on what they’ve learned to corps members who work as tutors, mentors, and role models for students who need extra support in classrooms across the country.
Locally, PEAR is collaborating with the Summer Learning Project, a breathtaking array of hands-on learning opportunities for Boston Public School students needing additional academic and socioemotional support. Since the Summer Learning Project launched in 2010, PEAR has delivered trainings to its staff, which includes school teachers and employees from 25 youth development organizations. “You have a room full of providers and teachers at the PEAR trainings coming from many different disciplines,” said Rahn Dorsey, evaluation director of the Barr Foundation, who invited PEAR to participate in the Summer Learning Project. “PEAR gives everyone a common language to talk about the social and emotional development of these youngsters, bridging the different worlds of the professionals they train.”
PEAR owes its success to the numerous individuals and foundations that have provided a broad base of consistent support over many years. Thanks to a recent grant from the Barr Foundation, PEAR Impact will be working in Boston Public Schools on a much larger scale in order to reach even more at-risk youngsters.
The Board of PEAR
- Stacey Lucchino, Chair
- Patricia S. Bellinger
- Andrew Bendheim
- Victoria Croll
- Jane S. Feinberg
- Robert Kargman
- Paul Sidel
“We have repeatedly highlighted how important the socio-emotional health of our students is to creating an effective system of learning,” said Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville. “A lot of the work PEAR has done in the last 15 years has been absolutely essential to framing this new way of thinking about our students, their mental health, and the strategies needed to ensure their success in learning and life.”
PEAR was recently awarded priority partnership status at the Massachusetts state level, meaning it is recognized by the state as a key resource for school districts.
PEAR’s mission is to do no less than revolutionize the way schools address the mental health and socio-emotional needs of adolescents—with the goal of helping them thrive in every dimension of their lives.
Thanks to its many supporters, PEAR is well on its way to doing just that.