Magnify Helps Young People See Problems and Solutions More Clearly
The teenage brain goes through a growth spurt just like their bodies. It’s an awkward phase for managing emotions, behavior, and decision making. And yet, during this time teens make decisions in their academics and social groups that can affect the rest of their lives. Teens who don’t have positive adult role models, who are disadvantaged by poverty, or who are not accepted by the mainstream social groups of their schools can face devastating challenges just trying to discover what they will do with their lives.
The Magnify program, directed by Chris Slaten PhD, Assistant Professor in Counseling and Development, helps teens address major life issues as well as their day-to-day problems. The program’s theme is “I am. I can. I will.” It is designed to empower and encourage students to reach their potential through self-awareness, self-acceptance, social-skill building, and planning for the future.
“We are specifically trying to target youth who are marginalized, to provide a service that the school doesn’t have the capacity or resources to provide,” said Slaten. Of the approximately 50 youths from 7th to 12th grades that were served by the program last year in Lafayette, all were eligible for the free or reduced lunch program and up to 25% were teen parents.
For the last three years, the program has sent graduate student counselor/facilitators (individuals working on their master’s degree in school counseling) into the schools to meet with 4 to 5 students at a time. Once a week for an hour, they convene a private, group counseling session with high school students who are chosen by teachers or administrators as individuals who have discipline problems, are disengaged, show a high likelihood of dropping out, or dealing with significantly stressful life events. The small group format allows students to connect with each other as well as the group leader, forming social bonds that increase their feeling of community.
Occasionally the groups are brought together for field trips and group celebrations. Recently, over 40 youth from the Magnify program took a field trip to the Purdue campus to see what college was like, to learn about financial aid, and to discuss career options that could be open to them through higher education.
School administrators have provided strong anecdotal evidence of the program’s effectiveness and pilot research is forthcoming. According to Dave Walker, Assistant Principal at Tecumseh Junior High School in Lafayette which has invited the Magnify program back for a second year, “We have noticed decreased truancy and discipline referrals, as well as an increased willingness to participate in school.”
Magnify is also a very positive experience for the master’s students who gain the opportunity to practice listening and counselling skills in real-world situations with at-risk youth. They test their own knowledge and skills while they have access to a professional mentor in Slaten. After each group session, the counselors-in-training meet with professor Slaten to debrief and discuss individual challenges faced in their groups.
The graduate students also witness firsthand what kind of a positive impact they can have on individual lives as a school counselor. MaryBeth Yeaman, one of last year’s participating counseling students said, “I witnessed personal growth with each group member and saw the development of friendships between the girls in my group. They were open, willing, and honest. They learned from the social skills lessons that I presented, but I also learned and developed counseling skills from them. Interacting and connecting with them weekly allowed me to gauge their growth, as well as my own. Magnify is an incredibly valuable experience that I feel very fortunate to have been able to help as a facilitator.”
With increased funding this coming year, Magnify will be adding one-to-one mentoring to the current group counseling service being provided to select schools along with a half-time graduate assistant to manage the program.