PEORIA, Ill.– A school social worker is going above and beyond to make sure boys at Glen Oak Learning Center are on the right track to becoming a man.
It’s an outdated notion that boys are supposed to be strong, not show emotion or express their feelings. Glen Oak Learning Center Social Worker Carlos Evans created a safe space for young men to play basketball and learn how to cope with anger and disagreements.
Evans said when adolescents grow up thinking they have to hold in their emotions, it can lead them to turn to violence and other dangerous coping mechanisms to deal with their feelings. The after school program, Caring Hoops, bridges a character gap in students who lack role models in their community and give some students a second chance to be successful.
“There was a need for character education and understanding how to take care of yourself when it comes to hygiene, how to get along with others. And what it meant to be a man at the end of the day. Because a lot of these young men don’t necessarily have all the role models you would be to be successful as a man growing up in the community,” Evans said.
I have some students who have rough experience in the community with robbery with murder, with parents getting sick.” So we are talking about those issues. We don’t shy away from that.”Carlos Evans
Evans said being able to talk about what the kids are really facing in the community instills courage and trust between him and his students.
“I am trying to get them into journaling, getting in touch with their emotions, feelings and letting them know that is an important piece in who you are,” he said. They trust them and I trust them. We have those conversations and they understand that it’s not just one piece you, it’s about the whole student.”
“I won’t say I was getting bad grades, but I was talking back. Not like in a disrespectful way but just constantly talking back. But after I got into the program Mr.Evans and my mom got me in check. [Caring Hoops] helps me stand out. If someone is doing bad, don’t follow them be a leader so the younger kids can know that’s the right thing to do and that’s the bad thing to do,” 8th grader Diante Mann said.
Caring Hoops focuses on character development in students who are between the 6th and 8th grades. The group is inclusive and students can only be accepted into the program by filling out an application.
They have to write short essays expressing why they want to join and how they think it would benefit them down the road.
“Having an application process shows some commitment. Getting it turned in on time shows some commitment. Having a better essay, a better response to the questions that are in the application shows dedication and commitment. So all that expression shows me how bad that student wants this program because when you jump into this program, that’s how much I am invested in you, if not more,” he said.
Since launching in 2015 Evans said his students are making strides towards becoming honorable men.
” I am seeing a lot more leadership development I am seeing more positive decision making. I am seeing a lot more patience. Coming from an African American background I feel like we have already been cut out from some opportunities and coming from poverty you are cut out from opportunities and I feel like it’s a disservice, especially when you don’t get that development early on like other kids who come from certain families,” he said.
Diante has been in the program for four years and said he is grateful Evans gave him an opportunity to be a role model for younger students.
“It makes me stand out like a role model. Like just the other day when I wore my shirt to school, someone said, ‘man I really want to wear one of those shirts and I was just like yeah. So I’m glad Mr. Evans gave me an opportunity to be in it. It made me be a role model, made me be a leader.”Diante Mann
Evans is the only person running the mentor group but would like to expand and help students of all ages who will benefit from it. If interested in volunteering, you can contact him at Carlos.firstname.lastname@example.org.