As we finish our last month of the Leadership Jackson Hole Program we thought we would share how meaningful this has been for youth in our community. Thank you to the parents of the students who have participated for entrusting us with your child and thank you to the donors who have helped provide funding to keep this program affordable!
People typically have one of two perspectives on intelligence and innate ability: they either believe it’s fixed and can’t be changed and that exerting effort or making mistakes are signs of stupidity, or they believe it can be improved through hard work and that effort and mistakes will increase their abilities. The former is called a fixed mindset and the latter, a growth mindset. Science has shown that intelligence actually can grow through effort, problem solving, and risk taking. Teaching the growth mindset has been shown to increase student achievement, school engagement, and motivation.
At Red Top Meadows, students typically arrive to the program well below grade level and with countless failures in the classroom.
Over the past two years, the school has taught about the brain and the growth mindset. Students made models of neurons. They demonstrated how intelligence grows by strengthening neural pathways through effort. In writing about a time when they had to work hard, try different strategies, and get help from others to learn something new, they strengthened the understanding of the growth mindset. Students also compared their muscles to their brains to explain how they can grow their intelligence and made brain hats to take on the role of the brain to learn how the different lobes function.
The frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for some executive function abilities (planning, problem solving, emotional and physical regulation, and organization), can be strengthened through mindfulness meditation activities. During science class every day, the students do mindfulness activities. The final lesson in the growth mindset and neuroscience unit will have them determine how they can use meditation to strengthen the frontal lobe and take charge of the rest of their body, their thinking, and their behavior.
Personal Finance: As the Personal Finance course comes to an end, the focus has moved toward wise consumerism Students evaluated marketing and brand recognition by viewing popular commercials, reading about teens as the largest market in the country, analyzing how expensive it can be to succumb to marketing schemes, and determining how to negotiate their way through the world of marketing.
Language Arts: With the spring wilderness theme of spirituality, reflection, and change, students read the work of several poets, analyzed the different forms of poetry, and created a book of poems addressing issues in their lives.
Math: Middle school math students translated written phrases into mathematical expressions, practiced the order of operations, combined like terms in algebraic expressions, and used the distributive property to solve for variables in one and two-step equations. Algebra I students solved real-world and hands- on problems to develop their algebra skills. Students graphed and solved inequalities, absolute value equations, and also used graphing to solve linear equations. Geometry students proved their understanding of several advanced geometry concepts through practice problems. Students learned the material through textbooks, videos, investigations, and online interactives. Topics included points, lines, and angles; proving theorems with deductive and inductive reasoning; parallel and perpendicular lines and planes; angle relationships; equations of slopes and lines; triangles; and segments and angles.
Algebra II students solved systems of linear equations and inequalities. They practiced some of the basics of linear programming and analyzed graphs of linear equations in three dimensions.
Reading: Students in reading class played reading games, breaking down words into their affixes and roots and using those to determine word meaning.
Science: In Physical Science, students created comic strips to demonstrate the factors that contribute to the unique climate of the Galapagos Islands. Next, students modeled the phases of the moon by making i-Movies showing how movement within the Earth-sun-moon system results in the phases of the moon. They also modeled how the axis of the Earth results in seasonal changes globally. Students also experimented with nuclear fusion to demonstrate how elements in the sun fuse and release radiation that powers energy-dependent processes on Earth. Biology students practiced using and developing dichotomous keys to identify organisms and illustrated how the processes of photosynthesis and cellular respiration work together to ensure organisms on Earth have the energy they need to grow, develop, and reproduce.
Social Studies: Students in Government determined how political parties emerged after the presidency of George Washington. They got two perspectives on the role of federal government by reading the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers. Students created charts and researched the differences between the two main political parties. In World History, students researched and developed Power Points on a nation in Central or South America to investigate concepts of colonialism and independence from England. Finally, students analyzed the French Revolution by answering questions about the reign of Napoleon.
Life Literacy: Students practiced and reflected on mindfulness. Next, when the mindfulness unit ended, students shifted to a focus on the Escalante Desert. The class conducted experiments with rust, made observations of artifacts from the desert, and collected and used evidence to argue whether they thought scientists had enough evidence to prove there was once liquid water on Mars.
VISION: All students will acquire the academic, social, and behavioral skills necessary for success in school and in life.
MISSION: To increase students’ confidence as learners by providing multiple opportunities for academic, social, and behavioral success; to cultivate students’ capacity to generalize the process of learning in the classroom to learning in life; and to empower students’ ability to make and sustain positive change.
“To help children and families find their way to fulfilling and constructive lives”: This is the mission of TYFS as a whole, and directly aligned with my goal as a therapist for the Van Vleck Group Home and Adam’s Canyon Crisis Shelter.
I took over the role as individual and family therapist for these two facilities back in May of 2017. While they serve different purposes and meet different needs, we begin the relationship with these children and families the same way; by starting a conversation. By opening these lines of communication and starting this dialogue we begin shedding light on the bigger picture of what factors are impacting the family and child’s life, both positively and negatively. We become more aware of what aspects of life they struggled with and how we can best begin addressing it as a team. Whether in a long term placement or crisis placement, our residents are in treatment for a limited amount of time and a large part of our job is providing the support and resources necessary to begin setting children and families up for success where they previously struggled. For the family, the conversation starts with focusing on what is going well, what strengths both the parents and the children possess and what has worked in the past. This creates a positive and proactive foundation based on already present strengths and skills of the family as a whole. Once this foundation is established, we move the conversation towards the concept of empowerment and autonomy. This is helping both the parents and child begin to feel that they have some power over the choices they are making as well as the impact those choices have on their life and those around them. Many times we need to understand this to recognize which behaviors are maladaptive and that we have the capability to respond in new ways to old situations. These skills can range from learning how to ask for what you need to creating choices to accepting responsibility for behavior and responses. This constitutes the bulk of the work done in individual and family therapy as well as in group home and crisis shelter. These concepts of empowerment and autonomy promote social and communication skills, encourage positive peer interactions and aid in establishing healthy relationships.
Whether a 30-day voluntary crisis placement or a long term court-ordered placement, the end goal is to set the foundation for success in the future and provide support and resources needed to facilitate continued success. As an organization we work closely with other community resources to connect children and families to these supports and ensure the family feels prepared for the future.
The 2018 Legislative Session is a Budget Session, with many difficult decisions facing our State Legislators on how to form a balanced budget when State revenues have decreased significantly over the last few years. The Department of Family Services and the Department of Health have seen major cuts (about 30%) in their budgets in the last two years. However, this year in response to a proposed State budget reduction in daily rate paid to residential treatment centers and group homes Governor Mead wrote, “ I recommend denial of the reduction to the standard budget. This reduction impedes a provider’s ability to provide adequate services for court-ordered youth who cannot be served by their local communities.” I greatly appreciate the Governor acknowledging that programs such as Red Top Meadows and the Van Vleck Group Home cannot sustain further cuts in payments received from the State.
He specifically addressed the daily rate paid by the State for service and the Joint Appropriations committee, thanks to in large part to Representative Schwartz, has said via their budget that numbers of youth served should not continue to be reduced. The statements made by the Governor and the Appropriations Committee were greatly appreciated and speak to the importance of helping troubled young people find a new and better direction while they are still young.
It makes me anxious to watch and listen to the process of discussing how much service we should provide for troubled youth and then read the paper regarding the tragic shootings in Florida this past week. I do not know a great deal about the shooters history but I know he needed much more supervision and treatment than he received. Because of economics there is a consistent push to make treatment shorter and faster, and I understand there are limits to funding, but we need to be careful to not create tragedies in order to address short falls in budget incomes.
Thank you to Governor Mead, Representative Schwartz and the Joint Appropriations committee for understanding the importance of our work. We hope the whole of the Wyoming Legislature does too.
Noah Strauss was born in Brunswick, Maine.
He attended the University of Maine in Orono where he majored in Elementary Education. He then moved to Jackson Hole two days after graduation to ski and play.
He was drawn to work at the Van Vleck House so that he could engage in active work with kids, where his fun loving nature could shine through. He likes the fact that there is constant change in his job with all the different kids he interacts with.
Noah enjoys getting the kids to participate in physical activities that they might not have tried before and loves helping to create new experiences for the kids. According to Noah he gets the most gratification from “seeing growth happen, seeing the kids improve their lives, to return home, and witnessing a-ha moments for kids when they gain insight into their lives.”
Noah has worked at TYFS since 2013. He is currently a Lead Youth Counselor at the Van Vleck House.