EAST PROVIDENCE — Building off the success of a similar program instituted last term, East Providence High School along with the East Providence Prevention Coalition have created the “Townie Leadership Academy” in an effort to reduce the use of illegal substances and to curb violence among the city’s teenagers.
The TLA is considered a partnership between school department and community that seeks to empower student athletes, initially, and the greater population in the future. The academy includes all components of the evidence-based “Mentors In Violence Prevention” (MVP) program, which was introduced at EPHS during the 2012-13 school year
Among those directly involved in the program are the students, of course, as well as EPHS administrators, led by Assistant Principal Shani Wallace, system Athletic Director Bob Duarte, EPPC Director Jennifer Wall and coaches as well as representatives from outside entities such as the Newman YMCA and Johnson & Whales University.
“Athletes are in the spotlight no matter if they like it or not,” said Mr. Duarte, who became involved in the program last year while serving as the assistant athletic director and coach of various EPHS track teams. “So we decided the first group we would work with would be the athletes and it extend it to other students.”
The MVP program, according to literature provided by Miss Wall, is the most widely utilized gender violence prevention model in high school and college athletics for both men and women with over 400 colleges, universities and high schools implementing this program. Additionally, the U.S. Marine Corps, Army, Navy and Air Force have also trained their personnel.
Student athletes, especially those involved in popular team sports such as football, basketball, hockey, baseball, wrestling and soccer tend to have enormous clout when it comes to establishing or maintaining traditional norms, Miss Wall said.
Their support, or lack thereof for prevention efforts, can make or break them, she continued. They are seen as leaders both on and off the field and are in the school and community spotlight on a regular basis. The TLA was designed to ensure that student athletes are well equipped and skilled in dealing with all pressures related to being an athlete.
“We want to make sure athletes make the right choices,” Miss Wall added. “There are ways to deal with situations rather than getting physical. We expect athletes to be leaders not just in school but it the community as well.
Said Mr. Duarte, “Being involved in the TLA is not a punishment. It’s chance for young people to improve themselves. Instead of being followers, we want them to be leaders. Athletes are some of the people the other students take their cues from. If they see the athletes making the right choices then maybe they will as well.
The TLA curriculum consists of discussions, role play, activities and games. Topic areas include types of abuse (physical, verbal, emotional/psychological, sexual, financial and social), battering, rape, alcohol and consent, sexual harassment, gender violence, bullying, school violence, leadership styles, stereotyping and substance abuse.
The chief TLA curricular innovation is a training tool called the “Playbook,” which consists of a series of realistic scenarios utilizing sports terminology with separate versions for males and females. Student athletes are engaged in role-plays which are intended to allow them to construct and practice viable options in response to incidents of harassment, abuse, or violence before, during, or after the fact.
Students learn that there is not simply “one way” to confront violence, but that each individual can learn valuable skills to build their personal resolve and to act when faced with difficult or threatening life situations.
Some 300 student-athletes will have completed the TLA program by the end of the 2013-14 term. They meet twice weekly. All sessions take place at the high school.
“I think it’s been very productive. We meet twice a week. We break into smaller groups, male and female. What we’re really trying to do is give these kids skills to relate to situations other than physicality and violence,” Miss Wall said.
As previously noted, plans are in the works to expand the TLA. Band, flag corp, theater club and student council members are expected to take part in the future.
The hope, according to Miss Wall, is to extend the program throughout the school system and the rest of the community.
Echoing the thoughts of her counterparts, Ms. Wallace concluded, “The point of this program is to give these kids skills they may not otherwise learn. These kids are growing up in an adult world. Our job is to prepare them to become good, whole people. But we have to remember they’re still kids. They’re going to make mistakes. We have to help them become informed and productive members of the community.”