B.A.M. (Becoming a Man) is a dropout and violence prevention program for at-risk male students in grades 7-12. B.A.M. offers in-school programming, in some cases complemented by after-school sports, to develop social-cognitive skills strongly correlated with reductions in violent and anti-social behavior. Each session is built around a lesson designed to develop a specific skill through stories, role-playing and group exercises. Participants learn about and practice impulse control, emotional self-regulation, reading social cues and interpreting intentions of others, raising aspirations for the future and developing a sense of personal responsibility and integrity. The after-school sports component reinforces conflict resolution skills and the social and emotional learning objectives of the in-school curriculum.
A recent randomized controlled trial conducted by the University of Chicago Crime Lab showed that B.A.M. reduces violent crime arrests, weapons crime and increases school achievement:
B.A.M. is grounded in research that shows a large share of homicides of Chicago youth stem from impulsive behavior – young people with access to guns “massively” over-reacting to some aspect of their social environment. This is consistent with a growing body of research showing that social-cognitive skills such as impulse control, future orientation, and conflict resolution are predictive of a wide range of key life outcomes such as school success and crime involvement. The $550 billion the US spends on K-12 schooling each year mostly focuses on academic skills. B.A.M. seeks to fill this need by developing key non-academic skills for at-risk male youth.
According to the U of C Crime Lab, 7,000 students have missed more than 40 days of school and are enrolled in schools within communities with homicide rates more than twice the national average. They are at a greatly elevated risk for violence involvement.
B.A.M. serves these very high risk males in grades 7-12 in Chicago Public Schools. On average participants have missed six-weeks of school during the pre-program year and have a mean GPA of 1.7/4 (D average). Nearly 40% have been arrested and more than half are over-age/under-credited.
B.A.M. currently serves more than 1,500 male youths in close to 40 schools in the Austin, Englewood, North Lawndale, Woodlawn and Pilsen/Little Village neighborhoods among others. These numbers triple the number of youths served in the 2012-13 school year – 492 young men in 17 schools.
1. INTEGRITY – is the core principle of the program. Students learn that a man is someone who is reliable, honest and in touch with his integrity or lack thereof and that he makes amends when he is out of integrity and does what he says he is going to do.
2. ACCOUNTABILITY – Students learn that they should be responsible for the choices that they make and take ownership for their feelings, thoughts and behaviors. A man can feel anger, sadness or fear, but he must own his reactions to those emotions.
3. SELF-DETERMINATION – Students learn the importance of focus and perseverance in reaching one’s goals. They learn to deal with self-defeating feelings, thoughts and behaviors that can become obstacles or barriers to achieving their goals.
4. POSITIVE ANGER EXPRESSION – is the most effective and remembered lesson taught in the program. Students learn anger management coping skills and effective techniques to express anger that avoid typical negative consequences such as suspensions, arrests, and damaged relationships.
5. VISIONARY GOAL SETTING – Students learn to envision their futures and make clear connections between their current behaviors, attitude and values and their visions. They seek to get in touch with traumas, pains and faulty thinking that cause them to act in negative and destructive ways. They learn how to heal these parts of themselves and direct that energy toward achieving their vision. This can be a very intense and yet life-altering process for those who are ready for it.
6. RESPECT FOR WOMANHOOD – Students are challenged to take a critical look at the values and actions that represent positive experiences and appreciation for women as opposed to depreciation, devaluing and oppression. They then learn appropriate and positive communication skills and begin using them in their interactions with women thereby increasing their respect for women of all ages.