By BRIAN FERRY
There are two main paths young people can take in life.
Times Observer photos by Brian Ferry
About 50 Warren County School District teachers, including some who are much taller than trainer and four-time Olympic wrestling team member Mark Fuller’s 5-foot-3, participated Tuesday in a training session on the WhyTry Program intended to help youth overcome challenges.
The WhyTry Program represents those two paths with the "Reality Ride," a pair of roller coasters.
One is fast and easy, with a peak that represents having fun by acting out. The ride is a short one and it ends with a crash - consequences - very soon after the peak. Sometimes, the young person on that ride can start over. Those who take that ride more than once are in a loop.
The "harder but worth it" coaster has a more gradual climb. To help them make that climb, there are supports. There isn't an extreme peak, but there aren't any crashes, either. The ride keeps going and includes some choices, all of which have higher levels of opportunity, freedom and self-respect.
To introduce the WhyTry Program to a group of about 50 Warren County School District teachers who will take the ideas back to their respective schools, trainer Mark Fuller spent Monday and Tuesday at the Warren County Career Center.
Fuller knows what it's like to move away from the fast and easy coaster and take the other track.
"I grew up in a very difficult home with divorce and alcoholism," he said.
When he was in the loop on that fast and easy ride the consequences kept escalating.
He told the teachers who attended the training that he credits the efforts of two of his teachers with helping him believe in himself and achieve his goals, and also keeping him alive.
Fuller said he worked his way up using some of the ideas that are now part of the WhyTry Program and eventually became a member of four United States Olympic wrestling teams.
Christian Moore founded the WhyTry Program. When Fuller saw the aspects of the program that were familiar from his own life and realized it could make a difference, he got on board.
"WhyTry is a series of metaphors to help youth figure out that there's opportunity, freedom and self-respect out there," he said. "Our program is designed to help youth answer that question in their lives - why try?"
One of the metaphors is "climbing out."
Students see a drawing of crabs in a pot. The pot represents trouble. Students are asked what their futures will be like if they stay in the pot and what it would be like if they climb out. They also have to identify who might help them get out and who won't. "Like crabs, youth tend to pull each other down when they try to get out," Fuller said.
"We use music, art, journal writing and kinesthetic activity to have the youth answer that question," Fuller said. "The WhyTry Program is in more than 15,000 schools in America. More than two million youth have been through the program."
It is also used in 400 correctional institutions, he said, making the program "K-through-death row."
"I've been working with youth for 30 years, he said. "There's more inside them than they think. I've never seen a better group of teachers and advisors to help kids see that."
"The traps that are out there for these kids aren't going to go away," he said. "People who go through this program have a 60 percent higher graduation rate, much more feeling of locus of control, better feeling about teachers and school."
He also hopes the program can help today's youth grow up to "end the next generation of abuse and neglect."
"I guarantee kids that they're going to fail," Fuller said. He hopes to change their views of failure and let them know that getting back up makes them stronger.
He used National Basketball Association Hall-of-Famer Michael Jordan (missed 9,000 shots, lost hundreds of games, missed 26 shots that would have won games) as an example, and said a baseball player who fails seven out of ten plate appearances (batting .300) will make millions of dollars a year.
"I've had the privilege of working with the finest youth in the nation," Fuller said. "I don't know who needs this program. I'm going to assume everybody does."
The district plans on a more limited implementation this year.
Warren Area High School assistant principal Misty Weber said the district is looking at the program as a "drop-out prevention measure."
"We had a group that went to the drop-out convention last year," special education supervisor Kristina Bokulich said. "The big thing was early intervention."
"We are targeting third through eighth (for the WhyTry Program)," Weber said. "Every single third through eighth grader in this district should get WhyTry this year."