School-Based Youth Services Program Resolute in Commitment to its Students Throughout the Pandemic
As a vital element of New Brunswick Tomorrow’s mission to improve the life prospects of New Brunswick’s youth, the School-Based Youth Services Program (SBYSP) in partnership with NJ Department of Children and Families(DCF), Youth Advocate Program(YAP), and New Brunswick Board of Education (NBBOE), provides an array of services to around 2,000 public school students annually to ensure continued success beyond high school.
As a vital element of New Brunswick Tomorrow’s mission to improve the life prospects of New Brunswick’s youth, the School-Based Youth Services Program (SBYSP) in partnership with Youth Advocate Programs, and with funding from NJ Department of Children and Families, and New Brunswick Board of Education, provides an array of services to around 2,000 public school students annually to ensure continued success beyond high school. This comprehensive social service program provides individual counseling, group counseling, class presentations, and youth development and employment preparation. These services are administered by a team assigned to each school consisting of a Site Administrator, Mental Health Clinician, and Youth Development Specialist.
With New Brunswick schools still observing virtual learning protocols, SBYSP is more important than ever as students continue to adjust to virtual learning. Not only have the students had to adjust, but the SBYSP staff has had to acclimate from in-person services to tele-health, Google Meet, and Google Classroom sessions. While this change comes with its own set of challenges, Mental Health Clinician, Aracelis Montalvo, and Youth Development Specialist, Leidy Cuas (members of our team at New Brunswick High School), say the change has helped them develop a better rapport with the students.
“I think we’ve gotten a chance to learn more about the family dynamics because kids are at home and if they can’t meet or if they have something going on, they’re more likely to explain, ‘Well, my mom works from this hour to this hour and I have to take care of my siblings.’ So we have more of a lens into their lives at home and what’s going on there. There’s just more connectivity,” said Mrs. Cuas of getting to know the students better outside of the school.
While the SBYSP staff still provides the same level of support to students, whether counseling or college and career preparation, these services are now provided through a lens of the pandemic. While early on many students viewed virtual learning as a fun break, there have now been two New Brunswick High School senior classes that have had to make major decisions to either prepare to go to college or enter the workforce during this pandemic. The difficult transition from high school was made more difficult by the fact that many students struggled to stay motivated while learning from home. SBYSP has had to be nimble in the way it delivers services, and tailor its programming to fit how each student is handling the disruption.
On how the students have reacted to the changes in their learning environment this last year, Ms. Montalvo said, “For last year’s seniors, it was very big on, ‘This has ruined my entire experience. This is not okay. I want to go back as soon as possible.’ And this year, I had asked one of my groups, this was when we were still potentially going back in February, I said, ‘Are you excited? Are you happy about coming back?’ and 95% of them were like no. ‘I have a lot of anxiety towards maybe getting COVID in the school. I have a lot of anxiety about switching up my schedule all over again.’ They’ve adjusted and at this point in the year, they’d rather not go back. Then, I’m also still seeing a whole other half of students that are like, ‘I still don’t do well with this. I’m not logging in. I’m not learning. I’m not figuring this out. I don’t feel like I will learn anything until we go back.‘ Truly such a mixed bag.”
Currently, high school students are set to return to school on April 19th. If that return does indeed take place, there will be a whole new set of adjustments needed to address heightened anxieties around social interactions and managing new schedules. For many students that SBYSP serves, the learning curve is even steeper as not only are New Brunswick schools a new experience for them but so is the American school system itself. SBYSP focuses on tailored interventions like the Newcomers Group for these students, which places new-to-the-country students in workshops to help them adjust. During the pandemic, at-home priorities tend to shift to basic necessities so many students don’t have the opportunity to talk through their mental health. For SBYSP, the key to keeping students on track, while still remote and in anticipation of going back, is giving the students the space to talk through their anxieties and help them find solutions whether providing knowledge or coping skills. With so many things shifting, SBYSP is a constant for our students in New Brunswick during a difficult time.