Linn County Expands Program for “At-Risk” Youth Into Sweet Home

On Tuesday, Feb. 27, the Linn County Juvenile Department (LCJD) announced the expansion of its “at-risk” program into Sweet Home and Lebanon junior high schools. The program’s intent is to keep youth out of the juvenile justice system.

Nate Taylor, Principal of Sweet Home Junior High School, expressed satisfaction with the program’s expansion into Sweet Home and highlighted its potential benefits for students and families.

“We’re excited for this opportunity,” Taylor said. “Having an outside resource like this coming into the building, to get to know our students and provide much-needed support, is great for the students and families.”

LCJD reported that intervention specialist Beth Shook has effectively led 18 groups comprising a total of 118 middle school students from Greater Albany Public Schools (GAPS). Out of the 118 youths, 112 had no prior involvement with law enforcement.

Now, the program has been expanded with the assistance of intervention specialist Emily Bell.

Both Shook and Bell work with the youths in small groups, assisting them in developing self-regulation skills, managing frustration, anger, and recognizing appropriate boundaries. LCJD collaborates closely with school officials and parents.

When asked about the program’s specifics, Taylor outlined that it focuses on developing coping skills through groups known as Girls Circle and Boys Council. These groups offer a safe environment for students to discuss challenging topics with evidence-based curriculum support.

Taylor said that student participation in the program is voluntary. Staff at the junior high provided a list of students fitting the program’s goals, engaging them in discussions about the program’s objectives. Participation proceeded only after obtaining both student and parental approval.

“The coping skills being taught will allow students to better control their behavior in class, school, and the community,” Taylor explained. “This should improve educational outcomes like better grades and attendance. Understanding how to handle difficult situations can also improve mental health and reduce anxiety.”

According to Taylor, the groups will formally start within the next week.

“We have identified our students and have approval from parents.  Bell, with the LCJD has already begun coming to the building regularly to build relationships with students, regardless if they are in the group or not.  She has also started to help junior high staff with supervision during lunch and passing time.”

Terry Martin, Sweet Home School District (SHSD) Superintendent, echoed Taylor’s sentiments. “The SHSD is very excited about this partnership with LCJD,” Martin said. “Implementing this program at Junior High is a fantastic initiative that reflects our commitment to the safety, growth, and development of our students. This isn’t just about minimizing risks; it’s about empowering our students with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to navigate challenges effectively. We’re fostering a culture of resilience and responsibility by equipping them with practical strategies for conflict resolution, decision-making, and problem-solving.”

Martin outlined that the implementation would occur through small groups led by Bell. “Evidence-based curricula such as Girl’s Circle and Boys Council are used once the students have identified what challenges they would like to address. Some of these challenges that have been identified by students who have already received this program were anger management, boundary setting, unhealthy relationships, self-advocacy, etc.”

He said, “There is also a summer program that will be offered for smaller groups of students, who already attended the regular sessions, that will focus on career and technical education. Some of these activities will include CPR training, water safety courses, and more.”

Martin highlighted numerous potential benefits for SHJH students, including collaboration opportunities, peer interaction, positive reinforcement, conflict resolution skills, self-regulation, a sense of belonging, and improved attendance.

“A program designed not only by adults but by the students themselves can have so many benefits,” Martin said. “We are optimistic that our students will grow and benefit emotionally, socially, and behaviorally.”

He provided The New Era with the program’s benefits:

Collaboration Opportunities: Programs that encourage group activities, discussions, or projects can promote teamwork, communication skills, and empathy among students.

Peer Interaction: Platforms facilitating peer-to-peer interactions allow students to build friendships, share experiences, and develop social skills.

Positive Reinforcement: Programs incorporating rewards or recognition for desired behaviors can reinforce positive conduct and encourage students to adopt constructive habits.

Conflict Resolution Skills: Activities or modules focusing on conflict resolution techniques equip students with the skills to manage disagreements and navigate challenging social situations effectively.

Self-Regulation: Programs that promote mindfulness, stress management, or relaxation techniques empower students to regulate their emotions and behaviors more effectively.

Sense of Belonging: Activities promoting inclusivity and a supportive environment cultivate a sense of belonging among students, enhancing their emotional well-being and reducing feelings of isolation.

Martin concluded by noting the program’s success in GAPS, where it not only improved behavior but also increased attendance. “Students are excited to be at school to participate in this intervention,” he said. “Even once the group is completed, the connections and skills learned have helped students attend more regularly.”

Martin revealed the program has already begun, “The first group sessions were this past week,” he said, “and according to our group lead, the groups went very well and we are confident to see success in our students.”