Playing golf may seem unrelated to achieving school success but the two are blended seamlessly in YAP’s new school program for the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) on the North side of Fort Worth, TX.
Program Director Mary Merino, Group Facilitator Rickie Clark and a passionate team of Advocates are helping to improve youth academic performance, school attendance and behavior while engaging parents—all important FWISD goals- through the new program with YAP that opened in March.
The students identified for the program were performing in the bottom 10% of achievement in the areas above. Most live in low income neighborhoods. Many parents are non-English speaking and some are undocumented, often lacking ID’s required to be on school properties. A single street divides their community from the city-owned Rockwood Golf Course but for most of them--until YAP--it was foreign territory.
Rickie Clark, a YAP facilitator from the community, was teaching a PATTS (Peaceful Alternative to Tough Situations) course to the young students when an idea came to him. PATTS is a SAMHSA-approved evidence-based curriculum that builds anger management and conflict resolution skills. Rickie was talking with the students about what they might do to reduce stress or tension. During this discussion, Rickie shared that golf helped him to reduce his tension.
One of the Advocates present then offered to take his students golfing to try it out. Not only did they try it once, but it has become a routine activity. The group caught the attention of "regulars" on the course. Soon, the golfers were offering lessons, golf clubs, "golf scholarships"--and a brand new sense of discovery and belonging for kids in YAP's program.
"The success behind our program is that we have staff who are well-connected in the community and leverage those relationships to engage students in new opportunities within the community," Mary says. “And we find our community is willing and eager to connect with our kids.” The list of connections for kids is vast because Advocates themselves reside in the community and are continually developing new relationships with community assets.
Interns in the Juvenile Justice system teach kids about voter registration. A link to the Ft. Worth Vaqueros--a popular amateur soccer team--led to kids serving as volunteer ticket takers and getting free admission to games. YAP staff with a presence on university campuses help young people use libraries and other resources. Entrepreneurial staff members teach skills used in their businesses: math in the recipes of a cake baker, cost estimates and ribbon measurements in a bow-making business.
YAP also helps parents who are often bewildered by school regulations and requirements even with bi-lingual school personnel available. "Parents have YAP on speed-dial," Mary says. Advocate assistance ranges from helping parents understand the "cutting phenomenon" (teens cutting themselves and posting on Facebook) to learning about school grading systems and credit recovery.
“Playing golf and our other activities may seem just normal to many people, but for YAP kids and families they open the door to the new opportunities," Mary says. "They help kids learn--and they give them reasons to keep learning for the rest of their lives."