At-Risk Youth: What Can Be Done?

kids_having_fun sxchu_shofar

I realize that I went to the National Youth-At-Risk Conference earlier this month, and I have not written anything from it. Part of this reason is because I have so much else I have been wanting to write about. And part of this is that I am still processing what I learned.

For now, I will give my some initial thoughts. So, here are my top three take-aways:

  1. Poverty increases stress levels, which decreases brain function. Yes, I have written about this before (such as in Children and Poverty and the Brain, and Poverty, Stress, and the Brain). And, yes, there are plenty of exceptions of people who grew up in poverty who went on to achieve great success. But I heard talk after talk (and saw vast amounts of data) that illustrated this general principle. This decrease of brain function is often manifested in behavior that we often call “laziness” or “defiant.” We need to understand the source of the behaviors that we see, and focus on the core issue.
  2. Brains can change from negative function to positive. This fact was the most encouraging thing that I heard. Studies show that specific brain function can change in as little as 5 weeks. Of course, to reverse the decay of brain matter will take time and energy, but there is hope. We can do this!
  3. We need great teachers. We don’t necessarily need local teachers (though proximity does help when it comes to knowing the families of students). And we don’t need black male teachers to reach black male teachers (as explained by one of the presenters, who happened to be a black male). And we should continue to work at engaging parents and getting the community involved. But even absent all of that, having great teachers will make a difference in the lives of these students.

I plan to revisit these ideas in the near future (I hope).

I’d love to hear from you. What questions or comments do you have about any of these points?

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**image courtesy of shofar via


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4 responses to “At-Risk Youth: What Can Be Done?”

  1. Joe says :

    Awesome post. I have been learning some of the same things. Easy to learn, but hard to apply in my own brain processes when dealing with the “lazy” and or “defiant” students. If you figure out how one becomes a great teacher in dealing with this, please post a how-to. 🙂

    • joeyespinosa says :

      You’re right — this does involve a change of thinking of how we evaluate behavior.

      I’m still learning about what makes a great teacher, but I think you have the 1st three steps down: 1) realize that you need to understand the source of the behavior problems (and not just deal with the problems), 2) Really CARE about the kids, 3) we as educators and leaders need to change our OWN thinking.

      If we can get teachers to grasp these 3, we’d be off to a great start.

  2. Becky Dukes says :

    The number one “game changer” is an effective teacher! Nothing else we do has the same impact. Of course, parent and community involvement help, but great teachers are the key to everything!!

    • joeyespinosa says :

      Yes! Though I’m new to education, I’m learning that same fact about teachers. I’m planning to make a public comment about that at the next school board meeting.

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