Boys Town program initiated at North Platte Public Schools this year offers another line of support services for students and parents.
Amber Garza, school support specialist at Adams Middle School, came on board at the beginning of the school year and her work has taken off quickly. She said she has made 181 connections with students and parents in guiding them through behavioral struggles in a teaching and learning environment.
Garza said the effort is a collaboration among several entities, and the program is funded through a grant from the Nebraska Crime Commission.
“What we do is to work with students on their social skills and behaviors," Garza said, “and helping to work with families, keeping them together and giving students the resources maybe they don't have at home."
Often the Boys Town name is associated with youths who are in trouble, but Garza said that is not always the case.
“I let kids and parents know, you're not in trouble just because you're working with Boys Town," Garza said. “It's a resource and a service to be able to teach kids social skills and have that environment that helps them in the classroom."
She said sometimes kids aren't taught how to listen or that it's respectful to follow instructions, or maybe their home life doesn't have that kind of environment.
“So working with the district bringing Boys Town in to collaborate and have that service will do, I think, a lot of good," Garza said.
Megan Andrews, senior director for Boys Town in central Nebraska (Kearney), said Garza's support role is different from other services provided by the district.
“Amber's role is a lot more proactive with students, giving them the skills they need more at neutral times," Andrews said. “If it's a situation that they struggle with, giving them those skills outside of that specific situation so that they have time to practice and really learn those skills so when they need it, they have it in their tool belt."
Garza said a school in Nevada where the Boys Town program was implemented saw a 56% drop in suspensions.
She works one-on-one with students in her room at Adams, which is set up differently from a regular classroom. Garza does various activities with students, including role playing and teaching how to work together.
“I have a little area here where they can just sit and take some time and calm down," Garza said. “Managing anger is a big thing for students, and not knowing how to cope can get them in trouble. “
To address concerns about students feeling they are in trouble because they are brought into the Boys Town program, Garza spoke with students in a class.
“I explained it by asking, 'You go to a teacher to ask for help with homework, is it because you're in trouble?' And they're like, 'no,'" Garza said. “I said, 'think of it as this is something that you need help with and maybe you just don't quite understand.'"
She gives students an example and they talk about the situation.
“I just had a student earlier and I asked, 'OK, what happened in class and how did you handle it?'" Garza said. “Then I give them, 'OK, instead of doing that, could we have handled it this way, and could that be a better option so that you don't get in trouble.'"
Garza said she makes sure the kids know the program is repetitive and can sometimes be annoying and boring.
“But I tell them, 'did you know how to play a sport the first time you picked up a ball, or did you know how to play an instrument (right away)?'" Garza said. “They say, 'no,' it takes practice."
The students are told the same principle applies to addressing behavioral issues.
Students are referred to the program through Adams Principal James Ayres and Assistant Principal Brett Joneson.
Another resource within the program is in-home family support that Jaime Wright has been offering for nine years with the district. She often goes into the homes of children who are struggling at school and offers support programs to guide the parents.
Andrews said the current Boys Town programs are modeled after the original ideas of the Rev. Edward J. Flanagan many years ago.
“We are celebrating 105 years since Fr. Flanagan founded Boys Town, this week actually," Andrews said. “He started out by taking wayward boys off the streets in Omaha, taking them in and giving them a place to live and kind of a family environment."
Andrews said a lot of the same principles that are followed at the campus in Omaha are still prevalent and active, such as self-government for kids and giving them a family-style environment.
“From the 'Boys Town' movie from 1938," Andrews said, “we've taken a lot of those principles that Fr. Flanagan had in the early days. There's that famous quote from the movie, 'There's no such thing as a bad boy, only bad learning, bad training, bad examples and bad thinking.'
“We truly believe that with our model today."