The teenage years of adolescence have historically been considered a stressful time. Young adults are on the brink of deciding their future, while simultaneously balancing friendships and relationships, in addition to possible bullying and peer pressure.
But in today’s day and age, the concerns of teens have become much darker.
“They are under so much pressure now more than ever before, and it’s not just about getting into college. The world has changed,” explained Karin Kasdin, a staff member of Langhorne’s The Peace Center. “Suicide rates among young people have tripled over the past 10 years. They see people having opioid addictions. Gun violence in schools. Kids are doing lockdowns and active shooter drills. Our political system is an angry mess right now, and kids are thrown in the strain of all of this.”
In order to give local teens a safe outlet, Kasdin, who founded the social/emotional intelligence program Girls Unlimited for middle school girls, created T.H.R.I.V.E. The joint program between The Peace Center (a nonprofit that works to prevent violence and discrimination) and the Bucks County Department of Behavioral Health teaches teens to trust, heal, respect, inquire, value and empathize, all while providing emotional and mental support during this pivotal time in their lives.
After receiving positive feedback following its launch last spring at Bristol High School, Kasdin brought T.H.R.I.V.E. to Conwell-Egan Catholic High School in Fairless Hills on Sept. 9-13.
Sophomore Seminar classes had the opportunity to open the 2019-2020 academic year by experiencing the program, which was integrated as part of the added enrichment initiatives afforded to students through an expanded nine-period schedule.
Over the span of five days, for approximately one hour each day, the 10th-graders were randomly divided into small groups. Through discussions and activities, they covered topics such as good decision making, healthy relationships, sexual harrassment, diversity awareness and managing strong emotions, including suicide ideation.
“They talked and they opened up and they enjoyed it. It gives them an opportunity to ask questions about things they might be confused about, express their feelings,” Kasdin said. “I feel that social/emotional intelligence is just as important as academic intelligence. Eighty-eight percent of the kids last year said they think this is a very important program for high school students.”
T.H.R.I.V.E. discussions were led by Kasdin and her staff of educators. She stressed that it was a “no-teacher-zone.”
“Kids don’t open up a lot in front of their teachers. They’re a little intimidated to do that,” she said.
Throughout the week, Peace Center educators encouraged Conwell-Egan students to share their stories with one another, taught them to stand up and recognize prejudice, and create a stronger classroom community. The intimate-sized groups allowed the teens to feel comfortable opening up, and also get to know some of their peers they might have otherwise overlooked.
One activity tasked the sophomores with writing on a paper plate. On one side, they stated things that people wrongly believe about them. On the other, they penned the truth.
“It’s been really eye-opening for a lot of kids, the things they thought about their classmates that may not be true,” Kasdin said. “Some of the classes are really big. If you’re not in class with somebody, you might go all through high school and not know somebody. And people do make assumptions, and they make judgments based on those assumptions. We show kids that the things they assume are not always accurate or fair.”
The administration at Conwell-Egan praised the T.H.R.I.V.E. program.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to help our students learn to express themselves in a productive way, discuss practices for good decision making, and allow their voices to be heard,” said principal Matthew Fischer.
“This is yet another outstanding program offered to our students that reinforces our mission-centered education that welcomes all faiths and cultures,” echoed president Tom Lynch. “We are proud to continue to offer our students opportunities to build the skills they need to be compassionate citizens of the world at CEC and beyond.” ••
Kasdin plans to bring T.H.R.I.V.E. to other public and parochial high schools across Bucks County over the next several months. Visit peacecenter.org for more information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com