Using Adventure Based Techniques to Foster Peer Support and Interpersonal Skills icon

Using Adventure Based Techniques to Foster Peer Support and Interpersonal Skills

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Using Adventure Based Techniques to Foster Peer Support and Interpersonal Skills

With Incarcerated Youth

James Owen

Metro School is located in the Metro Regional Youth Detention Center in Dekalb County, Georgia. It is a public school in the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) School system. DJJ is the 891st school system in the state of Georgia. Metro School is #4198 within this system. Therefore, it meets the definition of a local education agency (LEA).

The Metro Regional Youth Detention Center is the largest juvenile detention center in the state of Georgia. Youth are detained within the facility awaiting a variety of placements, court dates, and release. While at the center, students receive medical attention, food service, and mental health care in a safe and secure environment. One of the primary programs that students participate in is the academic program.

Metro School has been operating as a public school since May of 1998. It currently serves over 3,000 students each year. These students come primarily from the metro Atlanta area. Males and females are both served in the school. Ages range from an average of 13 to 16 years old, and classes are divided between high school and middle school. There is also a fully supported special education program.

Students attend school for 330 minutes daily, 5 days a week. The school curriculum is aligned with the Georgia Department of Education’s Quality Core Curriculum (QCC). Students use a self-paced individualized program called Curriculum Activity Packets (CAPS). The CAPS allow the students to enter and exit the academic program in an academic placement that is close or equal to the placement they were working in their last public school. In addition to four periods of academic courses, the students receive life skills education and a period of physical education each day.

According to DJJ policy 15.1.11, students have the right to “maintain his/her physical, mental, and emotional health by exercising on a daily basis. A minimum of one hour of daily exercise involving large muscle activity shall be provided for all youth. One hour of structured recreational opportunities shall also be available on a daily basis to alleviate boredom and to provide opportunities for positive interaction with others.”

During the week, the one-hour of large muscle activity is conducted in the school as a physical education (PE) class. All students in the school attend PE each school day. This policy is aligned with Georgia state PE standards.

The PE program primarily consists of team sports and cardiovascular exercise. Basketball, volleyball, and calisthenics are all used on a regular basis. In addition to the existing program, Metro school wants to develop a program that is adventure based with an emphasis on peer support and interpersonal skills. This type of program will specifically address two key program elements of the Carol M. White Education Program. They are (1) Fitness education and assessment to help students understand, improve, or maintain their physical well-being and (2) Opportunities to develop positive social and cooperative skills through physical activity participation. This grant money will be used to supplement, not supplant, the current DJJ PE program.

The design of the Metro School adventure based PE program will closely resemble that of Project Adventure (PA). Project Adventure implements residential and alternative programs for at-risk youth. Applying Adventure-based counseling techniques and a group-oriented approach, PA promotes the well-being of the youth served enabling them to sustain their gains. The youth who graduate from the PA programs leave with improved social skills, academic proficiency, ability to problem solve, basic living skills and more. This is accomplished without the use of restraints or seclusion.

Some students leave Metro RYDC and participate in a Project Adventure program. Data show that, of those who complete the (PA) program (nationally), 80% are reintegrated into the schools without further disciplinary incidents and 92% have no further involvement with juvenile court. Some of Project Adventures goals include:

  • Connecting group process and behavior management to educational goals

  • Connecting Individual Education Plans to group process and Adventure models

  • Accelerating trust, appropriate growth and connection, goal setting and community building

  • Supporting models for re-integration to regular education programs

  • Increasing staff communication and team approaches

Students participating in a Project Adventure curriculum will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of movement concepts and the use of motor skills.

  2. Demonstrate responsible personal and social behavior.

  3. Demonstrate the ability to use effective interpersonal skills.

  4. Demonstrate the ability to use the decision-making skills of appropriate goal setting, risk taking and problem solving.

  5. Understand that challenge, enjoyment, creativity, self-expression, and social interaction are important, life enhancing experiences and are found in Adventure activities.

  6. Demonstrate an understanding of and respect for differences.

Project Adventure’s Physical Education Adventure curriculum aligns with national and general state Physical Education standards. It provides a comprehensive program that is relevant and specific to the needs of students at various grades and in various subjects. It utilizes experiential-based learning techniques and methods to promote personal responsibility and positive behavior change concerning issues of health and wellness.

The model is predicated upon awareness of self within the context of community, and on providing an experiential base from which personal decision –making can take place and is aligned with the National Health Education Standards. Wellness integrates six dimensions of life: physical, emotional, spiritual, social, intellectual, and occupational. It is an ongoing process that centers on making choices, keeping a balance between the six dimensions, and students’ taking responsibility for their own well-being. Wellness includes, but is not limited to, students: making and sustaining friendships and other significant relationships; engaging in projects that are meaningful to them and reflect their most important inner values; nurturing their body through good nutrition and regular exercise; valuing their own opinions and appreciating the views of others; enjoying work and play and establishing a healthy balance between both kinds of activities.

Metro School is applying for the Carol M. White Grant as a novice applicant. Metro School has never received a grant or sub-grant under this program, has never been a member of a group application that received a grant under this program, and has not had an active discretionary grant from the Federal Government in the five years before the deadline date for applications under this competition. This money will not be used to hire teachers or staff, support extracurricular activities, or fund construction of new buildings or other facilities.

This adventure based project will be used to initiate, expand, and improve physical education programs for incarcerated students in grades five through 12 in order to make progress toward meeting Georgia state standards and DJJ standards for physical education by providing funds for training and education of teachers and staff, and for equipment and support.


Research has demonstrated that students in juvenile detention centers have low self-esteem and poor interpersonal skills. Their ability to empathize and support each other is severely deficit. An estimated 2.4 million persons under the age of 18 were arrested in the United States during the year 2000 (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2002). According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (1997), 106,000 juveniles are incarcerated on any given day in the United States. One factor shared by many arrested and incarcerated youth is difficulty in school. Juvenile delinquency has been linked to factors in school such as truancy, tardiness, poor relations with peers, low self-esteem, and low respect for authority (Emprey & Lubeck, 1971; Lewis, Schwartz, & Ianacone, 1988). In addition, when compared with their school counterparts, incarcerated male youths have significantly worse health status as manifested by poor interpersonal problem-solving, high risk behavior, and poor academic performance (Forrest & Tambor, 2000).

One common factor for many incarcerated youth is difficulty in school. Baker (1991) states, “School performance is by far the most single predictor of delinquency and future criminality, more accurate than race or economic level or social class, more accurate than any of the sociological variables commonly considered to have an effect on the rate of delinquency.” Through adventure-based programs, students can work to improve school performance, thus improving behavior in their social lives.

An estimated 5% of Metro School students spend some time in the Alternative Education Placement Model program or receive consequences as a result of inappropriate behavior. This amounts to approximately 40 students a week. Of this 5%, almost 75% of these incidences are a result of altercations with peers. The rest are with staff. The administration of Metro School is actively seeking methods of reducing peer altercations while enhancing coping skills and interpersonal relationships. Another objective of an adventure based program would be to maintain current Georgia state PE standards and the pursuit of meeting and maintaining those standards not currently being met.

While current programs do involve teamwork and peer activity, they are repetitive and limited in scope. They generally offer the same routine activities that are available to the students in their home schools. In addition, adventure based programs such as rope courses are an exciting way to promote health, team work, and peer relationships. As cited before, data show that, of those who complete the (PA) program (nationally), 80% are reintegrated into the schools without further disciplinary incidents and 92% have no further involvement with juvenile court.

In order to implement the program, PA will design a challenge ropes course that will help us meet our needs and standards. They will install the elements and train staff on their use. In addition, equipment will be purchased for our school.


System wide change in DJJ PE program design can result from the implementation of this program. Current PE program design is similar in all DJJ facilities. PA will offer training to other staff who wish to implement this type of program. Once initial training has occurred, other DJJ schools can implement the program by receiving training from current staff and purchasing equipment. Portable equipment is also available, if necessary. The program builds system-wide capacity to deliver a holistic approach to physical education. PA will start with systematic training that will permit our PE teachers to implement a sequential program that promotes physical health through cooperative activities, helping to promote life long fitness goals.

In combination with traditional physical education, this program is specifically designed to promote healthy behaviors at appropriate age levels throughout the system that can be used and adapted throughout the life span. We hope to see a reduction in our disciplinary issues as well as an increase in the overall interpersonal relationships between our students and staff. These results could easily extend throughout the DJJ system.

^ Quality of Project Design

The goal of this program is to meet Georgia state PE standards. If met, students will not only gain the interpersonal skills and peer support that is needed within our facility, they will also be meeting the life long sustainable health goals set forth by the standards. Training will be available to staff and the program will promote healthy behaviors and decisions.

Goals include having all students complete a sequential physical education program (during their stay) that is designed to promote healthy life long behaviors. In addition, we want to institutionalize a physical education program in the DJJ school system that will enable all students to meet the state physical education standards.

The design of the challenge course will be completed by February 1, 2004. A minimum of two hours per week will be offered to all middle and high school students during the spring semester. It is our hope that at least 75% of these students will demonstrate a measurable amount of peer support improvement and better interpersonal skills. This will be measured through the number of discipline referrals and proactive involvement of students to mediate and act as peer supporters and tutors. The number of students actively involved during the PE class period will also be a measure.

^ Quality of Project Evaluation

One method of measuring outcome objectives and the overall success of the program is comparison with students at other DJJ schools. Since the PE curriculum is currently very similar, this method could be conducted with the number of students actively involved in PE and the number of discipline referrals and altercations. In addition, these variables could be measured within Metro School before the implementation of the program and once the program has begun. Teachers will also be given a needs assessment and a monthly/yearly review of the program will be conducted.

A budget for the necessary equipment and expenses for implementing an adventure based program at Metro School follows:

Middle School 1 PE Educator

Consulting $0

Curriculum Books $40

Training (6 days) $1,400

PACK equipment $2,600

Challenge Course $10,000

Estimated Total $14,040

High School 1 PE Educator

Consulting $0

Curriculum Books $40

Training (10 days) $2,400

PACK equipment $2,600

Challenge Course $40,000

Climbing Tower $30,000

Estimated Total $75,040

Travel Costs (approximate travel costs per training segment)

Airfare $1,000 per trainer

Travel Day $200 per trainer

Planning $250

Hotel $120 per night

Meals $35 per day

Rental Car $100 per day

The total money needed for this project is $96,000. The Department of Juvenile Justice will provide a 10% match of funds for $9, 600. Of the $86,400 supplied by this grant no more than $4,320 will be used for administrative costs. Salaries of current PE teachers will not be used as part of the match money.

Correspondence concerning this grant proposal may be made to:

James Owen Metro School 1300 Constitution Road Atlanta, GA 30316 404-635-4460

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