When I asked Chan if he would like me to write a blog post about one of PTM’s new initiatives, COC (“Circles of Connection”) maps, it was prior to the recent Florida school shooting. As we all watched in horror the anguish experienced, there was one comment I saw on the news reports that has stayed in my mind: “Every child is our child!”, a Florida woman shouted. As PTM supporters, we all know that is true.
As all these school shootings unfold, one after the other, we hear comments about the lack of connection the shooter had with a positive peer group and caring adults. While these seem extreme cases, lack of connection has proven to be a major factor in the growing number of youth experiencing suffering from depression, anxiety, emotional illness, in juvenile lockup and experiencing academic failure.
According to a report released by the Commission on Children at Risk, “Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities”, the root cause of this crisis is a lack of connectedness in two ways: connectedness to others who care and show an interest in a child’s life as well as connection to a sense of moral and spiritual meaning. This study concludes that these connections are essential for well-being. The deeper and stronger these connections are for all youth (including our PTM youth!), the better chance they have at doing well in life.
Through the work of the PTM high school program committee, it was recommended that the six most important circles of connection for PTM students are:
· Caring adults
· Enriching Experiences
· Work Ready Competencies
· Positive Peer Groups
COC (“Circles of Connection”) maps provide a visual way to document and track social and personal relationships that a student has with their environment. It can be a powerful tool for not only discovering which connections exist and are favorable and strong but also areas where needed connections may be missing.
COC maps provide an opportunity to increase confidence and build self-esteem in students. They provide opportunities to have a conversation about a student’s journey with a caring adult. They serve as a reminder that students are resilient and are overcomers. COC maps are a tool for student goal-setting and accountability. They provide a way to document a student’s PTM journey.
Starting in fifth grade, students will meet at least twice a year with a caring adult (a.k.a. “COC Facilitator”) to brainstorm and fill in their six circles with existing connections and they will set a semester goal. The facilitator will communicate with Emily Gitter, PTM’s wonderful Youth Resource Coordinator, about any needs or God-inspired dreams that came out of this process. For example, perhaps a student desires to be a part of another PTM program but they need transportation or they wish to have more leadership roles. Emily will then assist with helping to connect that student to those resources that can make that happen.
While mass school shootings seem extreme on the connectedness spectrum, the youth violence in our own Nashville community seems very real, up close and personal. Like the grief-stricken Floridian said this past week, “Every child is our child!”
Our Nashville youth violence issue speaks to the urgency of doing what we can at PTM to ensure that our students are connected in positive ways so they know love and they have hope for their future. COC maps are a tool and means to help accomplish those goals.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11. — Donna Moffit, PTM Board Member and Volunteer