The Youth’s Survival Guide in a Concrete Jungle: Early Intervention & Education

By Chelsey Seger, CFCC Student Fellow (2016-2017)

The Jungle Book is a story of a young boy who must adapt to his environment to survive. For many children in Baltimore City, their home and social environments resemble a jungle of poverty and violence, and they, too, must adapt their behavior to survive.

Imagine that you are a Baltimore City high school student, walking to school with your best friend. When you get to school you see him shot and killed by another student. You no longer have a best friend.  A few weeks later, you see another one of your classmates stabbed and die in front of you while at school. Then, while you are still recovering from the loss of two friends, you hear gunshots at school. Another classmate was just killed. You have lost three friends in three months to violence at school.  What would you do?  How would you feel? How would you react? Whom would you turn to for help?

Unfortunately, this is a true story that happened last year in West Baltimore at Renaissance Academy High School. Growing up in the seventh most dangerous city in America has exposed Baltimore City youth to traumatic events in their homes, communities, and even their schools. They are living in violent and impoverished neighborhoods where crime, drug addiction, mental illness, and homelessness are the norm. Places where they are supposed to feel safe have turned into a jungle of violence, and if they want to survive, then they must learn to adapt. But to adapt means to buy a gun, or find another means to keep yourself safe and protected. To buy a gun in Baltimore is easy and cheap, and students know where and when to get one.

When I started as a volunteer tutor with CFCC’s Truancy Court Program, I quickly realized that my students have seen and experienced things that I hope I never will. Life is traumatic in these neighborhoods, where gun violence and crime are daily occurrences, and it is routine to witness the deaths of your family, relatives, and friends. As a result of these events, many youth suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which may be an underlying cause of aggressive behavior.  PTSD affects a student’s mental ability to attend and participate in school, which increases the likelihood that he or she may become truant. Due to the plethora of problems plaguing their communities, the social and home environments are important factors to take into consideration when approaching problems related to truancy and misbehavior. These issues need to be addressed through early intervention programs that take into account a student’s social, family, and home environments. Schools may benefit from having experienced mental health clinicians and counselors on-site to identify and resolve issues relating to misbehavior and truancy in students.  Programs such as CFCC’s Truancy Court Program can help address the root causes of truancy, increase student attendance rates, strengthen academic performance, and improve behavioral problems.  They also can assist in developing trust between the youth and the legal system and can help foster positive relationships between students and their schools.

For those of us who have not had to grow up in this type of environment, we are privileged. We have had the good fortune to not grow up in a world of violence and poverty because of our ethnic background, where we live, and/or our socioeconomic status.  We have had the privilege of never fearing whether or not we will survive to see another tomorrow or worrying about how we are going to survive today.  But it does not have to be like this. It is not too late to clear the path in the urban jungles so that all of our youth can succeed. There are programs that teach  youth how to move beyond the urban jungles toward a future that fosters success.  They are based on an early intervention and ecological approach to prevent future misbehavior, provide therapeutic outcomes, and apply trauma-informed care in schools.  Students who do not have the opportunity to participate in early intervention programs lack the supports necessary to be successful in school.  Sadly, many of these youth become products of their environment. Without early intervention, underlying issues of crime and poverty will continue to affect the overall mental and physical ability of students and will prevent them from attending school and being successful in life.

4 thoughts on “The Youth’s Survival Guide in a Concrete Jungle: Early Intervention & Education

  1. A very powerful piece of information. Thank you for sharing. It also requires the adults in these processes of intervention to work through our own biases, model the right/appropriate behavior and help these young in the learning of decision making. ALSO, WE CAN NEVER GIVE UP ON A CHILD/STUDENT… Thanks for sharing.

  2. Perhaps, instead of dehumanizing the children by comparing them to animals in a concrete jungle. We should understand that their birth, or lack of privilege, in such an environment is through no fault of their own. While well written and timely, we should not compare black children to animals. That is problematic.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and leave a comment. I believe that you misinterpreted my Jungle Book metaphor and consequently mischaracterized the blog’s message. “Raised by animals” certainly did not refer to the parents of the children or to the children themselves. To prevent any further misinterpretation, I have taken those words out.

    When I analogized the boy’s environment to a “jungle,” I was not referring to a race issue. These are not race issues. Poverty, violence, and their effects do not know one race or ethnicity. These are socioeconomic issues, and we must recognize them as such in order to identify and resolve the underlying problems that affect all families and their children.

    The purpose of the metaphor was to emphasize that we must change our environment in order to ensure that our youth — the future of our generation — are no longer plagued by the effects of pervasive poverty and violence. Their wild animals are the effects that drug addiction, homelessness, mental health issues, unemployment, violent crime, and other problems have on them, and what they must do to adapt in order to survive. The little boy in the Jungle Book was placed in a jungle environment through no fault of his own and had to adapt in order to overcome the obstacles and challenges that he faced there. This story was about the importance of a child’s environment, where the primary socialization process occurs, and how this can affect his/her social and behavioral interaction, access to education, and ability to become successful. The poverty and violence in Baltimore do not affect only black children; they affect children of all races

    We must approach these issues for what they truly are — socioeconomic issues — in order to create a society that is united and not one where people act against one other. We must come together to change our government and legal justice systems to improve our neighborhoods. We need to change our approach, our policies, and our laws so that each person, regardless of their socioeconomic background, has the opportunity to become a successful citizen. Our legal system must begin to consider ecological factors, and implement preventive and restorative practices to create positive and therapeutic outcomes for our people, regardless of the color of their skin.

  4. Early intervention should definitely be the prime option for the youths who are the major force of our nation. This is a task in which public institutions as well as families should get involved. As CFCC Students Fellows we were exposed to a plethora of innovative family justice components. It is crucial to give an opportunity to the public at large to be informed about the challenges youths face in this city, as well as the underlying consequences of those challenges.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *