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Penn Hills School District joins Children's, YMCA for 'Manhood 2.0'

| Friday, Oct. 30, 2015, 5:39 p.m.

School leaders and community members are looking to address root causes of behavior problems in Penn Hills male students rather than simply punishing them.

The district partnered with the Penn Hills YMCA and UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh this fall to participate in a program called “Manhood 2.0,” which offers high school boys facing disciplinary action an alternative to out-of-school suspension.

The program is part of a research study sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and conducted by Elizabeth Miller, chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at Children's. Miller said the study is looking at ways to reduce sexual violence and is being conducted in Penn Hills and seven other Pittsburgh-area neighborhoods.

“We're really working to make a positive impact in communities,” Miller said.

She said out-of-school suspension is proven not to alter behavior, and studies show adolescents respond better to skills-building programs and rewards for positive behavior.

Manhood 2.0 participants meet Saturday mornings at the Penn Hills YMCA, where they discuss respect, nonviolence and healthy sexuality with community volunteers.

Thomas Wallace, executive director of the Penn Hills YMCA, said the need for such a program was discussed at a community forum this year. He said the YMCA was happy to be involved.

Wallace said the program has been well attended since it began in early October.

Penn Hills Superintendent Nancy Hines said the district offered a similar program to students last year, when Hines and other volunteers mentored students, male and female, on weekends.

In piloting the program, administrators learned more about what drove students to act out. She said the findings were reassuring.

“Our shared goal was to get to know the students and to find out why they were not being cooperative in school,” Hines said.

She said students confided that they refuse to cooperate with staff who do not appear to care, or that they create diversions or tune out when they feel intimidated by not understanding class material.

“Our conclusion as facilitators was that, if given appropriate and personalized attention in a safe environment, most students will cooperate,” she said.

Discipline has been a topic of discussion in the district and community this school year. Board members and building principals discussed security, discipline problems and strategies within Penn Hills schools at a board meeting on Sept. 28, and an October incident that involved the alleged assault of a school security guard attracted local media coverage.

Meeting minutes show the board has approved 12 disciplinary agreements since the beginning of the school year.

Hines said community members have come forward and asked to get involved in the district in a positive way.

As a result, she said, the district is reviewing facets of its mentoring program in light of volunteer interest and availability.

Kelsey Shea is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7845 or kshea@tribweb.com.

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