The Barton County Commission Monday morning heard an update on the All Stars program and its efforts to help kids make better choices from Juvenile Services Director Marissa Woodmansee. She was joined by Park Elementary School’s Family Support Worker Alana Blessing and four Park elementary students, Natalie Daniels, Macy Parr, Ishmael Ramirez and Jeriah McFarland. They shared their experience in the program.
“All Stars is a really great program for us kids. It gives us a moment to talk with our friends about uncomfortable topics we don’t want to talk about with our mothers and fathers because they are always working or really just don’t care enough to sit down and talk with them about things like that,” Daniels said.
Parr said All Stars helps her and her friends stay on a good path and avoid making bad choices and Ramirez and McFarland said they like discussions about what they want for their future, and how to achieve that future.
Blessing has been working with students at Park Elementary for 15 years.
“The kiddos that come into our school now, they face many problems. Many come from poverty, and they have a lot of trauma. This program helps give them an opportunity to talk about the things going on in their lives, and these kids are faced with it every day.”
Students have frank discussions about topics like sexting and cyberbullying, and discuss how to handle situations during their sessions, Blessing said. There is also a strong grade-appropriate curriculum the class follows which helps the class stay focused and on track on making good decisions with their futures in mind.
Commissioner Jennifer Schartz congratulated the students, noting they were well spoken and articulate.
“I can’t imagine the nerves that you’ve probably experienced having to face us,” she said. “I know that you must be the leaders in your class to have been chosen to do this, and you’ve done such a good job. We’re really proud of you.”
Schartz also asked what the county’s role is in fostering the program. Woodmansee responded that the county is the fiscal agent of the program, and has been since 1991 when it first began as the LEAD program. Students talked about drugs and alcohol then. The program has grown and evolved into its present day coalition.
She shared some good news with commissioners. In September, Woodmansee asked for and was provided with $3,000 from the county in order to train new people. Since then, she has written a grant through the partnership of the Golden Belt Community Foundation and United Way partners, and got the $3,000 back.
“I really wanted you to hear from the kids what it means to them,” she said. “My excitement is when they are excited about their future.”
Commissioner Jim Daily took a moment to express his pleasure in the fact that the students had an eye on their long-term futures. Blessing stepped forward to note the expectations in school for sixth graders that they understand they need to focus on more than the next vacation.
Woodmansee introduced Karla Martinez, Great Bend High School’s Family Support Worker, and GBHS student Rose Ledezma who spoke about what All Stars is like in the high school setting, and how it’s impacted student lives.
Martinez said All Stars was introduced last year with GBHS juniors and seniors in the JAG class. This year, it was introduced to freshman and sophomore classes. Martinez introduced Ledezma, who wrote an article about how JAG and All Stars in combination have helped her get to where she is today.
“Last year we talked about reputation and goals we want to achieve after we graduate, and what we don’t want to fall into that we’ve maybe seen in our families, like drug addiction, gambling, or other footsteps our parents have followed from there,” she said. “I have chosen accomplishment and positivity for my future. What I didn’t want was addiction, violence, selfishness, or loneliness. All Stars helps. It gives you ideas on what you can do to avoid those situations, and avoid that path in general.”
She also shared about how they’ve been discussing the importance of showing kindness and grace to people in general.
Finally, Jennifer Hopkins the JAG-K teacher at GBHS said adapting the All Stars curriculum for older students like the juniors and seniors she teaches has been fantastic. She described the slide show her students put together at the end of the year last year. It was shown at a student-led celebration that parents and important adults in her students lives were invited to attend.
Schartz said she appreciated the county can partner with and foster the program. She wanted to know what happens when the KDADS grant runs out. Woodmansee explained how she has been planning for sustainability for the past three years, identifying grants that she can write to keep the program in operation. Enough data has been amassed over the years to show the program works, and she expects in the next few years she’ll see fewer of these students coming through her office.
“They are getting the skills now to be able to cope, and are able to practice and have those conversations, this is what the program is intended to do.”
All Stars background
A program that has seen success in preventing unhealthy behaviors among young people in Great Bend was expanded in September.
The Barton County Commission Sept. 24 approved growing the 20th Judicial District Juvenile Services All Stars Core Training. This is a school-based intervention program designed to reduce adolescents’ engagement in risk behaviors such as substance use, violence and sexual activity.
The agency currently provides the program to Unified School District 428 sixth grades and the high school’s Jobs for America’s Graduates program.
Having paid a $750 deposit, the commission authorized a $3,000 expenditure to pay the balance of the training for school, law enforcement and JJS personnel. The training can be expanded into Hoisington USD 431.
All Stars came about out of necessity as Woodmansee’s Kansas Department of Corrections money for her office dwindled. This led to an opportunity to collaborate with the Kansas Department of Aging and Disabilities.
There was a planning process that involved surveying 10th to 12th graders. They wanted to find out what were the issues that are relevant to juveniles in the community, Woodmansee said.
They realized that there was still issues with the early onset of tobacco use, alcohol use, promiscuity and bullying (worse now in the era of social media).
Next was implementation, and she said the All Stars program was the best fit. An an evidence-based program, it has been in Great Bend for three years, going on its fourth.
It takes time to see if prevention efforts are working, she said. And, there is no magic bullet to solve the problems.
That is why the evidence-based approach is so crucial. It makes sure it is being used properly and is working.
All Stars delves deeper with kids, she said. It touches on beliefs, norms, values and the consequences of actions.
They work with kids and help them through those things. They also walk kids through goal setting and other ways to better themselves.
Riley Elementary School was the first pilot program. Instructors there said they have seen signs that is has worked.