June 20, 2005
Community intervention is goal of psychology class
BY Eric Rangus
The Hollywood Courts and Bowen Homes neighborhoods in northwest Atlanta are separated from Emory by a lot more than the six miles that show up on the odometer.
They sit in the middle of an economically depressed area where the poverty rate is nearly twice that of the city as a whole. Nine out of 10 residents are African American, and at Benjamin Carson Honors Preparatory Academy middle school—which serves those neighborhoods—98 percent of the students live in homes led by single mothers.
Those figures make for an alarming stat sheet, but if one looks beyond the numbers, a compelling story emerges. Carson Prep is the base for one of the central efforts sprung from a three-year, Community Outreach Partnership Center grant to Emory from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In collaboration with the Office of University-Community Partnerships (OUCP), the psychology class “Community-Based Intervention and Prevention” (PSYC 385R), Rebekah Bradley, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, brought 21 undergraduates to Carson Prep last spring where they learned on the front lines how to encourage community change.
“There are significant problems here,” said Ginger Wickline, a doctoral student in clinical psychology and TA for the class, who until she moved on to a residency at Penn State in May doubled as a OUCP graduate fellow. “But all these parents have a desire to bring up their children properly. There are strong family bonds. All we’re doing is building on what is already there.”
One of the most important tools being used to build were this spring’s Parents and Children Coming Together (PACCT) nights. Aimed to increase communication between Carson Prep students and their parents, the PACCT nights were integral parts of the Emory contingent’s work.
The first event, held in March, was socially oriented. Revolving around the theme of working together, the evening featured games and door prizes. The second PACCT night, April 28, marked a significant step forward in seriousness.
“Parents wanted an event where they would get help in talking about sex,” Wickline said. It’s a touchy subject for adolescents, and the responsibility for doing it gently yet credibly fell to Wise Chauluka, a 2004–05 Humphrey Fellow at the Rollins School of Public Health.
He talked about the scourge of AIDS in his home country of Malawi. He cautioned the girls in the audience to be wary of boys who might use then discard them. He told both boys and girls to respect their parents. It was an old-school talk, but for many it seemed to hit home.
A dozen Carson parents were in attendance in the school’s media center. Perhaps more important were 45 children—Carson students and their younger siblings—scattered among the colorful chairs and tables.
The evening wasn’t all heavy. Emory students dished out homemade chicken and rice brought in by parents, poured big cups of iced tea and mingled with Carson Prep kids and adults alike.
“This is a wonderful concept,” Chauluka told Wickline following the event. “I would love to export it and take it home.” Perhaps without realizing it, Chauluka voiced the underlying theme of the PACCT nights.
The psychology class and the accompanying PACCT nights grew from seeds sown by a group of the OUCP’s Kenneth Cole fellows who first worked at Carson Prep during summer 2004. As part of the project “Changing Times Changing Minds, Leave No Parent Behind,” they developed strategy to engage parents and teachers as partners in children’s education. Teachers wanted to better understand student behavior, and parents were looking for positive role models for their children. The community psychology class met these needs.
Emory students met weekly as mentors with individual Carson Prep students. They also were required to keep journals, reflecting not only on their mentoring, but also their PACCT experiences and the integration of their readings with on-the-ground realities. In all, 21 students were enrolled in the class, mentoring 26 Carson Prep students. The class was such a success that it will return this upcoming fall.
“The course is nothing short of remarkable for its impact on the Emory students, the Carson middle school students involved in the mentoring component, and the Carson teachers who participated as co-learners in the class,” said Sam Marie Engle, director of the Cole fellowship. “Every Emory student would benefit tremendously from learning firsthand the effects of the social environment on behavior and personality, particularly in children.”
Engle added that the parents of Carson mentees she has talked to have unanimously lauded the program. They would love more, and Emory wants to deliver. Bradley and Engle soon will meet with parents to plan another PACCT activity before classes begin in August. Come the fall semester, a new crop of Emory students will be back in Carson classrooms.