“Too Cool for Trouble” After School Program Provides Educational Fun

by Will Potter

Youth Connection Waco is always thinking of new and innovative ideas to benefit young adults and help improve their lives and chances of success. One of the most successful programs implemented by the organization is its afterschool program: “Too Cool for Trouble.”

The program aims to help middle school students by providing them with fun and educational activities after school. It is offered on several campuses in the Waco area and addresses topics such as good character traits and how to achieve personal wellness. “Too Cool for Trouble” teaches skills to students like goal setting, how to take responsibility and leadership. This afterschool program was set up and continues to equip middle school students with the tools to make positive choices in their lives.

Many Baylor students have volunteered with Youth Connection Waco in the past and have had great things to say about the “Too Cool for Trouble” program and the impact that it has had on the kids who participate.

“I started working with the afterschool program at two different Middle Schools in Waco. Every week for an hour I would spend time with 6th, 7th and 8th graders who joined Youth Connection’s Too Cool for Trouble group. We would play interactive games that engaged the students and also taught them character traits such as honesty, selflessness, and courage. It was surprising to me to find twelve year olds who could not give the definition of honesty. Once I completed my hours I was then hired to work for Youth Connection and lead their Too Cool program. I led Too Cool until I graduated from Baylor and ended up working at 6 different Middle Schools. It is hard to estimate the exact number of students that were reached through this program, but I know that the impact of Too Cool was felt by these students who would be waiting for us each week.”–anonymous Baylor student and former Youth Connection volunteer.

Not only has this program impacted young people in the Waco community but it also has a lasting effect on those who volunteer and help out with Youth Connection.

“We want to see the afterschool program continue to help young people be better prepared to succeed in the world,” said Carolyn Nichols, executive director of Youth Connection.

The goal of “Too Cool for Trouble” is to provide an atmosphere conducive to the dissemination of information and the building of self-confidence that adolescents need to resist peer pressures and understand society’s mixed messages. The program covers subjects such as setting goals, making decisions, planning for the future and self-esteem issues and aims to make the lives of at risk youths better.

For more information, contact Carolyn at at (254) 202-8480 or cnichols@sw.org.

Youth Connection Will Present the 18th Annual Conference on Effective Ways to Reach Youth

Youth Connection will host its 18th annual conference, “Moving Forward: Effective Ways to Reach Our Youth,” to present new programs, methods and strategies for professionals who work with youth on April 11, 2014 at the McLennan Community College Conference Center.

This event is popular with the teaching, nursing, social work, coaching and youth work professionals. “Moving Forward” is specifically geared to these professionals in empowering them to be highly impactful in their work with young people. Registration fee is $75 (Special Student Rate:$20, Copy of current Student I.D. must accompany registration form)–covers conference fee, lunch and program materials. CE Credits will be available for an additional charge of $10.

The keynote speaker, Gary McGuey, is passionate about helping organizations build a principle-centered work environment that can help people improve their professional and personal lives.

This conference included essential educational information to teachers, counselors, parents, and other attendees on helping and understanding difficulties in today’s youth.Teachers have consistently expressed high satisfaction with the speakers and the program content and have given the conference high evaluation rating,” Nichols said. “The majority believed they were able to learn valuable skills or gain important insights as a result of the meeting. Our goal is to continue realizing these high achievements in each one of our conferences.”

For more information, or to register, contact Youth Connnection executive director Carolyn Nichols at (254) 202-8480 or cnichols@sw.org.

“Too Cool for Trouble” in Action

Youth Connection Waco is doing its part to invest in the lives of middle school students across Central Texas. When it comes to investing in youth, one of the main ways Youth Connection serves the community is by pouring into the lives of middle school students.

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Youth Connection sponsors the “Too Cool for Trouble” program by serving middle school students in educational activities after school hours. The goal of the “Too Cool for Trouble” program is to arm youth with the tools to make positive choices. The hope is that the practice of assessing options and making positive life choices will continue after the students leave the program.

Through group discussions and interactive games, seventh and eighth graders are provided an environment after school that is safe and useful for developing and enhancing personal lifestyle choices.

The program covers various topics such as good character traits and personal wellness. It also teaches skills like goal setting, taking responsibility and leadership.

Brad Jesson is the ACE (After School Centers on Education) Coordinator, or site manager, for one of the local middle schools. His primary duty is to provide activities for students after school and oversees the everyday after school program. Four core components make up his after school program—academic, enrichment, college and career preparation and parent involvement.

Youth Connection’s presence each week helps drive the impact of the program through its service to the students. Youth Connection takes over for Jesson one day per week and he is very grateful for the services of Youth Connection, specifically its “Too Cool for Trouble” program.

“They’ve been very good,” he said. “They are always steady and here on time. They spend time with the kids and the kids can tell they care about them. They put a lot back into them as well. You can always tell a difference in the students when we have somebody outside come in.”

When somebody comes from the program who is a volunteer not associated with the school, the demeanor of the students changes, according to Jesson. He said the students can get used to the same faculty and staff being there, so the presence alone of the Youth Connection volunteers very impactful in itself.

Volunteers value their experiences gained during their services for “Too Cool for Trouble”. For example, one volunteer reported great satisfaction in seeing the students interact with one another as well as employ the tools “Too Cool for Trouble” has given them.

The students in the Waco public schools are being enriched because of the volunteers and the services offered by through Youth Connection’s program. Seventh and eighth grade students are becoming aware of what it looks like to live lives that value morals, integrity and healthy, safe choices that will follow them the rest of their life.

RealCare Babies Teach Valuable Lessons to Students

by Chris Derrett 

Robinson High School’s Child Development teacher has seen countless students stumble into her classroom and beg for their babies to be taken away.

A local student meets her “Real Care” baby. (photo by chris derrett)

The students are sick of the crying, exhausted from tending to the babies’ needs around the clock and frustrated as the babies dictate every minute of their schedules.

The crying stops, but only until the baby becomes the responsibility of another student.

It’s a good thing these babies are only simulation dolls.

Make it stop

“What’s most common is they just come in very fatigued and very relieved,” Robinson’s teacher says. “They just say, ‘Turn it off now; I’ve been waiting since 7:15 a.m.’”

These babies, known as RealCare babies, have been used her child development class at Robinson for the past eight years. It was at that time that Robinson’s teacher learned from a colleague about Youth Connection Waco’s RealCare loaning program. Since Youth Connection Waco partnered with Robinson, dozens of students have experienced life with a simulated newborn child.

Students quickly learn not to be fooled by the “simulation” part of RealCare babies — they’re as real one could imagine.

Upon receiving an activated RealCare baby, students are responsible for feeding, burping, diapering and rocking the babies when they cry for attention. The babies are programmed to sometimes cry continuously, regardless of what the students do, like a real life baby often does. At the end of the care period, which lasts one or two days for Robinson students, the babies are connected to a computer program that shows exactly when the babies cried and what the students did to care for them.

Robinson’s teacher distributes all her RealCare babies on a volunteer basis to ensure students are committed to caring for the babies and learning from the process. Those students usually approach the experiment positively, but the babies still prove too much to handle for some.

“I’ve had a few students who could not attend to it, and it cried all night long,” Robinson’s teacher reported. “They put it in a different room; they just couldn’t do it.”

In the worst cases, the computer report will indicate the baby shut down because of abuse. There was once a student who wasn’t responsible for the abuse; a family member couldn’t stand the crying and shook the baby until it stopped.

Hard to watch

As one of the child development volunteer presenters has learned, shaking a simulation baby to the point of severe injury hurts when one knows it happens all too often in real life.

“Although it’s something difficult to do, it’s important [the students] experience it,”said Stacy Carter, a Youth Connection volunteer, who describes to students the dangers of baby abuse in great detail.

Carter got involved with Youth Connection Waco after meeting the organization’s executive

Youth Connection volunteer Stacy Carter, a graduate student at Baylor University, demonstrates the “Shaken” baby to a local middle school class. (photo by chris derrett)

director, Carolyn Nichols. Carter called RealCare baby presentations a “perfect match” with the opportunity to help Waco teenagers in pregnancy prevention.

Carter gave presentations to Waco high schoolers about shaken baby syndrome, drug-addicted babies and fetal alcohol syndrome. She taught about each condition using a RealCare baby designed to mimic a baby affected by the diseases.

The drug-addicted RealCare baby screams while vibrating units make the baby shake; the RealCare baby suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome is much smaller and frailer than a usual baby.

While those babies aren’t fun to present, Carter said it’s particularly hard for her to use the RealCare baby representing shaken baby syndrome. The baby has a transparent head with red lights that illuminate when sensors detect the baby has been shaken too hard. It begins with one light, and the others turn on as the baby endures more and more abuse.

As part of the presentation, Carter shakes the baby until it dies.

“That experience is not natural, and it’s difficult to show them how that works,” Carter said.

Students also shake the baby and are surprised by how easily the baby can sustain life-threatening injuries.

“The major message I’m really emphasizing to the audience is that these are all preventable,” Carter said. “With education we can spread the word, and we can stop a lot of unnecessary disabilities.”

For the future

There are no childcare questions on the SAT or ACT, but Robinson’s teacher says the things her students learn from RealCare babies might be some of the most important information of their lives. At some point, most or all of the child development students will care for a child that either belongs to them, a family member or a friend.

That’s why the RealCare baby test, “is one of the most important things to do all year with them.”

Until the day babies can feed and clothe themselves, the need for proper childcare will always remain.

A local middle school student and his “Real Care” baby. (photo by chris derrett)

“The class that I teach is an elective, and ‘relevance’ is very much drilled into our heads,” Robinson’s teacher said. “[The students] are going to all benefit from the awareness and relevance.”

For more information about Youth Connection’s Real Care Baby Project, contact  Youth Connnection Executive Director Carolyn Nichols at (254) 202-8480 or cnichols@sw.org.