Child at Risk Discovers Superhero Strengths

In life we all experience pain and loss that shakes us to our core but what truly matters is how we pick ourselves up afterwards. A challenge faced with support and guidance allows us to emerge stronger and better than before as PS 18 student “J” and Transformational Coach Jessica Kormanik have shown full well through working together in St. Nicks Alliance’s NABE 3.0*.

When Jessica Kormanik began working with third grader “J” in September 2017, he had been previously diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Anxiety Disorder and had been struggling both behaviorally and academically. Coach Jessica met J through her work as a transformational coach at St. Nicks Alliance’s Afterschool at PS 18. J also had been strongly impacted by the death of a school employee, who he had created an emotional attachment with. He was finding it difficult to engage with his peers, often having emotional outbursts which caused him to shut down and isolate from others as well as displaying aggressive behavior towards himself, a sign of low self-esteem.

Coach Jessica collaborated with counselors and therapists from his Individualized Education Program (IEP) to develop a well-rounded approach that would give J the optimal guidance he required. An IEP is a system created for students who need special education.  Coach Jessica utilized play therapy and engaged with J based on his interests. She was able to form a strong therapeutic alliance and create a safe space for him to share about himself during their individual weekly sessions throughout the school year.

Coach Jessica discovered J’s love of superheroes and they worked together on identifying his “superhero strengths” and how they could help him grow. When J recognized these strengths he started building his own personal confidence.

The NABE 3.0 initiative uses transformational approaches to help children, adults, individuals, and families identify and overcome obstacles to success.  Coach Jessica was also able to help out J’s mom in many ways. When J’s mom shared she had been having some issues with a fellow tenant in a St. Nicks Alliance building, Coach Jessica was able to quickly connect her with a St. Nicks Alliance housing counselor to resolve the matter. J’s mom also expressed a desire to earn her High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED), and Coach Jessica was able to inform her of training and employment services available at the organization’s Workforce Development Center at 790 Broadway in Brooklyn.

As the school year progressed, J became better able to identify his feelings and share about his experiences surrounding his losses and struggles. Coach Jessica noticed that J was building empathy in their sessions, and this started to translate in his interactions with his peers. J now has the ability to create and maintain friendships as his emotional outbursts have significantly decreased. He also made leaps academically: he went from a reading level of A to D within the school year.  J was now also able to actively participate in afterschool activities and field trips that his previous emotional outbursts regularly interfered with. On the occasion when J gets frustrated, he now knows he has a number of adults he can go to, like Coach Jessica, who encourage him to never give up. After the school year ended, J continued to develop at St. Nicks Alliance’s summer camp.

“I have observed significant improvement in J as he interacts with his peers during lunch,” stated PS 18 Principal Alison Alexander. “He also participates with his classmates during instruction and participates in class discussions.  He is comfortable taking initiative to speak with adults when he experiences a challenge as opposed to going into crisis.  One day he came over to say hello to me and he told me a joke and engaged with me for about 5 minutes!  That is something that never happened before.  Getting J to say hello and engage in regular pleasantries was a challenge!  The partnership between St. Nicks Alliance and the PS 18 Staff is genuinely making a difference in the lives of our students and families.  J's success story is one of many,” added Principal Alexander.

Coach Jessica commented, “It makes me happy to see him smiling and engaged, a huge turnaround from the student I initially met. I feel incredibly proud of him for the strides that he has made, and I know there is even more growth to come!”

Those committed to supporting his emotional, social, and academic growth:  his Coach, Afterschool staff, school staff, and leadership hope to see J continue to improve upon his emotional regulation next school year. They look forward to continuing to assist his development.

*To protect the subject’s privacy, we have replaced his name with “J.”

*St. Nicks Alliance launched NABE 3.0 three years ago, in response to community conditions and challenges. This new initiative helps address poverty, employment, and academic success in a high poverty targeted area of Williamsburg’s 11206 zip code. NABE 3.0 integrates successful strategies that St. Nicks Alliance has implemented in workforce and education development and affordable housing. Key elements use transformational approaches to help children, adults, individuals, and families identify and overcome obstacles to success. Partnerships with schools, public housing entities, legal, financial and government entities, among others are core to NABE 3.0’s model. Change Capital Fund is one of NABE 3.0’s initial funders. As a result of NABE 3.0's successful outcomes, new funding from NYS 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program will enable NABE 3.0 to expand in five schools, and will therefore serve 500 children beginning September 2017.