Inspiring Success

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September 24, 2015

AMIkids is Building “IT Pride” in Students Who Need It Most

By Eric Larson

TechClassWhere does pride come from?

I’m not speaking of the negative form of pride, the kind that gets in the way of spiritual enlightenment or personal growth, the kind of pride that says, “I’m too proud to admit I don’t know the answer,” or “Why should I take any direction from you?” We all know from where that kind of pride originates: a place of fear. It’s a self-sabotaging pride that tells you, “You’re way too important for that”—while simultaneously digging a wide, deep hole for you to jump into.

No, I’m more interested in pride of a different sort: the pride that yearns for something better in life, the kind of pride that speaks an emphatic “NO” to negative thoughts and actions that would lead you to landing in jail, losing a job or destroying a loving relationship. Here is a pride that is humble yet ambitious, a pride that is as patient as the Earth’s journey around the Sun while also being aggressively focused on today’s main tasks. A pride that doesn’t make excuses or cast blame, but rather, a pride that says, “Despite everything I can do this. I will try until I succeed.”

To those who administer AMIkids, a residential program for troubled youth, this more positive form of pride comes not from a “Scared Straight” screaming of threats, but from a strict daily activity schedule, continual positive reinforcement and plenty of opportunities for accomplishment and growth. And it all happens outside the confines of juvenile prisons, which have proven almost completely ineffective in preventing further brushes with the law.

By contrast, the vast majority of AMIkids program graduates succeed. Recently I had the opportunity to tour the AMIkids White Pines campus in Jonesville, SC, 30 miles east of Greenville. True to its name, amidst the pines are nestled two camps on either side of a small pond where the students—many of them from the city—can fish and boat. About 50 boys ages 13 to 18 are residents of the camps for anywhere from six months to 4.5 years, depending on what the state’s parole board thinks is necessary for a child to turn his life around.

TechThough the courts assign them to the program, education and rehabilitation—not punishment—are at the center of the AMIkids model for life-change. Anger is treated like an addiction, similar to drugs or alcohol, and students learn to manage anger so that anger doesn’t manage them. The program’s curriculum includes math, science, social studies, language arts, and a professional, career skills class, with all the teaching reinforced by the Plato program of computer-based drills geared toward the GED exam.

A vocational program promotes job-skill development. Director of Vocational Education Rebecca Corrigan explained that the goal of the program is to prepare students for jobs once they graduate from the program.

“Our mission is to teach our students that they have the potential to become productive citizens,” Corrigan said. “I feel that the vocational piece is an important part of that. The child needs to leave our program job-ready.”

Until this year, the most viable job paths for students were in construction, healthcare, and the culinary arts. (In fact, I ate lunch at the camp and can attest to the skill of the students and mentoring staff. This wasn’t your average school cafeteria. The roasted chicken and potato salad were spiced just right, tastier than most restaurants.)

At the beginning of 2015, directors of AMIkids national saw the number of opportunities available in the technology field and added an IT class at three of its 13 residential programs. Just to illustrate how well these students can absorb IT instruction, a student stepped AMIkids CEO and President O.B. Stander through the assembly of a desktop computer, even teaching the meaning of CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Conductor) as Stander plugged a hard drive into the motherboard.

Over the next several months, IT Futures Labs will work closely with AMIkids to calibrate its IT instruction to the program’s students. Together we’ll learn the best means of helping AMIkids who have stumbled, in order to build in them a new kind of positive pride: IT Pride!