Psychology 3312.251
YSB Volunteer Project
Spring 1998

I did 33 hours of volunteer service for San Marcos Youth Service Bureau, from 2-11-98 to 4-22-98. Most of this was done on Wednesdays from 4-7pm. I have mixed feelings about the experience, and I will be as honest as I can.

The center is open at 3pm to get ready for the kids, who start arriving at about 4. They are responsible for finding their own way there; most of them walk or ride the school bus. The YSB staff take them home in vans. From the time they get there until 4:45, they just hang out, eat snacks, play basketball, etc.

Homework Time

Homework time is from 4:45 to 5:30. I was initially excited about the idea of helping kids with their homework. I am no good at sports, arts and crafts, or carpentry, but I do have a good mind, and I am perfectly capable of helping middle school kids with homework. I was disappointed, however, because most of them had no interest whatsoever in doing their homework. They would say things like "homework sucks" and goof off for the entire 45 minutes.

Sometimes they would cooperate. After Carlos, the project manager, found out I was an English major, he almost always assigned me to help kids with their reading. Carlos provided us with paperbacks such as The Outsiders to read—hoping that the kids would want to read them if they could relate to them. One or two of them seemed to be genuinely interested in reading, but most of them read very poorly, and it was a struggle to try to make them.

Orientation

That's what they call it—I don’t know why. Baby-sitting is what I call it. We did things like painting, working with clay, construction paper and glitter, carpentry, etc. Most of the time it was just something to keep them busy and entertained.

YSB was nothing like I expected. I thought it was a program designed to turn troubled kids’ lives around—I saw no evidence of such an attempt being made. I believe that YSB is basically a day care center for teenagers—to keep them out of trouble during the time between when their school is out and their parents get home. Since the program is voluntary for most of these kids, the staff cannot be very strict or the kids would not come.

The Staff

The members of the staff that seem to actually know something about how to effectively operate such a program are rarely visible. They sit behind desks in an office at another site, and rarely interact with the kids directly.

The staff that does work with the kids on a daily basis do not appear to be very much brighter than the kids—just older. One of the paid staff showed the students some slides of great works of art. When she got to the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, she said something to the effect of "This is a picture some guy named Don Vincy painted on the roof of some church in France." Later, I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain to her why water would not remove oil-based paint from the brushes. I suppose that patience and street smarts are more important than education in dealing with these kids, but it did sometimes seem as if the inmates were running the asylum.

Gilbert

Most of my time was spent working with Gilbert in one way or another. Gilbert is 15, Hispanic, and in the 9th grade. He is the type of kid that not only misbehaves, but also leads other kids to act up. Carlos asked me to work with Gilbert one-on-one. I sometimes think it was more to keep him away from the other kids than to benefit Gilbert.

He was usually hyper, and appeared to be a compulsive liar, especially in his attempts to inflate his image in the eyes of his peers. He bragged to us about such things as stealing cars, beating up guys, and getting three girls in his school pregnant at the same time. I think that he is, for the most part, a loud mouth and that he would probably wet his pants if he were to really face a dangerous situation.

Gilbert is a classic example of a representative of the controversial group in Patricia East’s Peer Group Stati. Our text* describes this group:

These youths tend to be aggressive and disruptive, yet also possess good leadership and assertiveness skills. As a result, they become highly visible members of peer groups, though they elicit ambivalent reactions, turning off as many of their peers as they attract (pg. 206).

I just wonder when Patricia East met Gilbert! Gilbert is indeed aggressive and disruptive. I did notice that the other kids either hero worship him, or they tell him to his face that they think he is full of crap.

Gilbert is failing all of his classes because he slacks off and refuses to do any work, but I refuse to believe that he is stupid. On one of the rare occasions that I got him to concentrate a little bit, I was surprised to find out that he could find most of the errors in a TASS grammar drill he was working on. He had no idea why the errors were wrong—he would say "Dude... it just sounds stupid that way."

Gilbert is a very talented artist; unfortunately, he is compelled to draw on everything he gets his hands on. For this reason his school does not allow him to take his books out of the classroom. He usually draws demons, or other occult or psychotic images. He says that he wants to be a tattoo artist.

Gilbert has a quirky personality. One day when we were in the back yard, supposedly working on biology, he abandoned me to shoot baskets. He bet me $5 that I couldn’t dunk a basketball. This hoop was only about 7 feet from the ground, and it was bent 45° toward the ground; so even I could dunk it with no problem. Upon demanding the $5, he replied "Dude... don’t you know nothing? Gambling is against YSB rules!"

Id

Gilbert and several of the other kids, especially the boys, are examples of Freud’s Id. The Superego that tempers the Id to create the compromise of the Ego has to be learned—it does not just appear. Most of these kids have poor role models or none at all. They live by their instincts for the most part. They do exhibit signs of a superego, but it is underdeveloped.

I also think that many of these kids have not successfully made the transition into Piaget’s Formal Operations Stage. They do not seem to have developed the ability to successfully utilize hypothetical, inductive and deductive reasoning in a meaningful way.

Token Economy

YSB has a token economy system. For each day that a student shows up, obeys the rules, does his or her homework without complaining, and does not misbehave—they get a "point". These points are recorded on a chart, and after the student has acquired a set number of points he or she is allowed to participate in weekend activities such as movies, dances, campouts, etc. If they don’t have enough points, they are allowed to make up the deficiency by doing extra work, such as washing the dishes. Gilbert almost never gets his point, which is actually a relief to the staff—he is very difficult to control on field trips.

It appears to me that the staff is too lenient in the distribution of points. I’ve seen some kids act pretty bad and still get their point. I suppose they know from experience which kids will act right on the field trips.

Conclusion

Overall I think that YSB is a worthwhile program; it serves a valuable service by keeping these kids off the streets for those critical afternoon hours. I do know, however, that working in such in such a program is not a career choice that I am personally interested in.

 

* Atwater, Eastwood. Adolescence 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:

Prentice Hall, 1996