The Bardvark: "All the Young Dudes Carry the News"-David Bowie
Risk and ResilienceWednesday, March 28, 2012 By Danya Levy ’15
It was sixth period on a Wednesday in room 502, and a ninth-grader named Maxine Whitney was flipping through her workbook. “I have an example,” she told two other students. “‘My mother yelled at me yesterday, so that means I’m a terrible daughter and she hates me.’” Maxine was one of the many students participating in the sessions that are part of the “Risk and Resilience” high school advisory curriculum. Ever since the spring semester started, the 13 sections of high school advisories have been involved in this 10-week program. The goal of this program is to help students acquire evidence-based tools to help control their emotions, lower stress levels, improve communication, protect against dangerous behaviors, and learn organizational skills. Jess Shatkin, Vice Chair for Education at NYU Child Study Center, developed “Risk and Resilience” and in every advisory two visiting NYU students conduct the sessions, which Principal Michael Lerner also supervises. In an email to BHSEC parents in January, after describing the program, Principal Lerner noted that, “ultimately, our goal is to help students manage their stress levels,” which has been and continues to be a major problem at our school. In order to achieve these goals, the professors at NYU created an individual workbook, which each student received during the first session of the program. In this workbook, the program’s curriculum is laid out, week-by-week, complete with diagrams, charts, definitions, exercise descriptions, and sections for the students to fill out themselves. Thus far, many topics have been covered that have to do with controlling emotions and thinking rationally, such as the cognitive triangle—the connection between thoughts, emotions and actions—and recognizing thought errors. The ninth and tenth graders in the program have also learned how to talk back to themselves, giving advice as if they were talking to a friend, and have practiced putting their thoughts on trial, identifying the mistakes in their thought processes and turning around their bad moods. The participants practice new techniques in discussions, coming up with examples, and performing short role-playing games. For example, in the example that Maxine came up with, the thinking errors were “All-or-Nothing” and “the Crystal Ball”: the daughter saw everything in black-or-white terms, thinking that because her mother was angry once, she would always hate her. She also assumed that she knew what her mother was thinking, when, in reality, her mother probably just got upset once and doesn’t hate her. Although most students recognize that the intentions of “Risk and Resilience” are good, reactions toward the program are mixed. “I think that it’s important for ninth and tenth grade students to learn to manage their emotions,” said one ninth grader, “but I think that the way it’s being taught isn’t very interactive, and so it makes it kind of boring, and people don’t really pay attention.” Many others agreed, noting that the visiting college students sometimes had trouble keeping the students engaged. On their end, the NYU students who were interviewed enjoyed teaching the class and working with this age group, although they understood that not all students took the advice to heart. “I feel like the information that we’re giving is very useful,” said Amanda Carrasquillo, who leads the program in the Cho/Scott advisory, “and even though it kind of seems silly when we’re teaching it, things that you guys already know, it comes in so handy.” Many students did learn new and interesting techniques. Another ninth grader, Alessandro Bruni, said that, although the program could get repetitive and many students were not interested, “I’ve learned how to manage my time, and I’ve learned how to handle things more effectively.” And although some students said that they hadn’t learned any techniques that they would actually use in their lives, virtually all of those interviewed agreed that the program leaders from NYU were all interesting and funny people, and tried their best to teach the program well. And, as one student pointed out, there are other ways to combat stress and anxiety among high school students. “I think it’s a really great idea to help us, you know, understand ourselves as people,” she noted, “but our time could probably be better spent doing homework, which is our main pressure.” As I’m sure many BHSEC students would agree.