Thursday, October 29, 2009

Junior Year: Pit falls and Confusion

An entire summer has past, and an update is long overdue!

Over the summer, Hugo and I finished the CRASH curriculum! Unsurprisingly, it was a mad rush to finish, slapping everything together during the last few weeks of humid summer days, but it is done! Despite the mad rush at the end, we feel really proud of our work. I did extensive research through online sources throughout the summer months, which is why it left little time to actually write the lessons. However, we plan to reedit over winter vacation, or next summer, because I have to study for MCATs in December and January.

Recruitment for CRASH went very well. We had a table at the Student Activities Fair. However, it was really surprising to see how many students would avoid our table (like actually steer as far away as possible when they had to walk past it to get to the next booth), or giggle nervously when they saw what our group was about. At first we had a white board that said "Teach Youth about Reproductive Health!" We also had some great CRASH volunteers who stood on each side of the table with condoms and pills and flyers, and waved them wildly at everyone who came by. While we got a large number of sign-ups, we could see that there were a lot of students who clearly avoided the table because of the sign. SO, we changed the sign to say "Learn More About Tutoring Baltimore Youth." THEN we got about double the people to come over to talk to us. About a fourth of them would book away from us once we told them what we do. A lot of them did not know what a dental dam was, or a diaphragm. This makes me think that if CRASH wasn't teaching teens, we would could just work on campus.

So, we had WAY more volunteers than we expected, even after making them sign a contract saying that they would make all 6 of the CRASH sessions. This was very surprising, and it made me really happy that we have dedicated volunteers on campus. I had to go reserve extra vans (we take 3 8-seater vans, and we could probably still use one more)to take everyone to the Schaefer House. This was a problem because the SAC had run out of vans for some of the weeks. Also, Tutorial Project politely asked for one of our vans, so we politely let them have it, but it left us in a pickle to find two more vans! Luckily, some of our volunteers stepped up to the plate to help us out on those vanless days. Teamwork is essential.

Lost in Baltimore

So, for the first day of CRASH, I was a mess. I was nervous, and I felt like I was going to forget everything. I had just spent 40 minutes the day before getting all the curriculum packets ready. The printing of all the notebooks alone took 30 minutes. That is a lot of trees. Luckily, I remembered everything. However, we got lost on the way to the Schaefer House! Even though the house is only FIVE MINUTES away, the volunteer driver took the ramp onto the highway instead of turning on the Druid Lake Park exit (I should have been better at giving directions!), so we ended up downtown. Usually, this would be fine, but the Baltimore Running Festival was going on, and traffic was at a standstill. Horror! The first day of CRASH, and my poor volunteers had to spend it crammed into a SAC van for a hour, and we never made it to the Schaefer House. I explained what happened to the director, and he just chuckled and said, "See you next week!"

Our second attempt at our first day of CRASH turned out a lot better. However, when we were gathering around for a few last words after the first session, we saw a car crash right across from us, on the other side of the road divide. Not so good.

We are finally finished with laminating all the activity boards, and we are set for the semester! Although we are looking to change the program further down the line, I am happy with the progress we have made.

Some changes from the past nine years:

1. Word-for-Word Curriculum: Our curriculum tells our volunteers what to say. Although almost none of them read directly from the packet, everyone says that it's really helpful. Since most of the volunteers we have this year are new, they find it comforting to know exactly what to say.

2. Allowing flexibility: Although we write out every detail of each lesson, we highly encourage volunteers to hold a discussion with the youth, and educate them in anyway that they feel would be engaging. Our veteran volunteers tend to take the lead on this, so I specifically split them up (we teach in small groups of three) so that new volunteers could see the flexibility of CRASH

3. Building relationships: We require all volunteers to make all the sessions (they have one excused absence in case of an emergency). In addition, they always work with the same boys each time. We feel that it is incredibly important for volunteers to establish a relationship with their boys. This will make the boys feel more comfortable when raising questions they might have. We have only had two sessions so far, but the atmosphere in the room from the first session to the second session was DAY and NIGHT. It is just incredible. After observing the first session, i advised that the volutneers disperse themselves between the youth and arrange the chairs in a circle to break the volunteer-youth barrier. Before, we were teaching with the volunteers standing, and the students sitting in a line. This created a distance between us and the students. Since we are about the same age as the boys, I didn't want to make it seem like we were teaching them. This is a learning experience for everyone!

4. Catering to Individuals: We implemented devices in the curriculum to tailor the boys' experience based on what they already know, and what they WANT to know. We understand that they aren't going to remember any of the information we teach them, unless they are interested. Thus, we have things like question cards, which are anonymous index cards that the boys fill out at the end of the session, where they are REQUIRED to write a question that the volunteers will research and then answer at the next session. This is an elegant tool, because if a youth asks a question during the session, and an inexperienced volunteer doesn't know the answer, or it's a tough question, they can just have the student write down that question at the end of the session, and they will still get an answer the next time. It also helps the boys (and us) think about what things they are interested in learning.

5. Assessing the program: That's the Woodrow Wilson part of this project! More on that later in my upcoming post about IRB approval (ugh!)

Future goals:

1. Working on volunteer bonding

2. Refining the curriculum

3. Adding more sessions that address the underlying problems that promote sexual risk-taking in young adult males (relationships, substance abuse, environment, culture)

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