CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Teens talk to Dr. Richard Ricard and his team during a behavioral intervention program that is helping at-risk students in the Coastal Bend.
“School counselors are increasingly tasked with addressing the mental health needs of students attending their schools,” said Ricard, Professor of Counseling and Educational Psychology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Corpus.
But school counselors often lack the extended time and resources to provide students with structured individual and group counseling experiences that support emotional growth. That’s why Ricard and his group of student interns have designed a program that could help.
The intervention program helps local at-risk high school students who have been sent to Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs for offenses such as fighting, substance use, felonies, and misdemeanors. Organized as a series of eight group sessions, the “Teen Talk” program teaches students the skills needed to create effective relationships and become better learners. During the sessions, students, who often display antisocial behaviors, learn skills such as how to actively listen, express feelings, and effectively cope with stress.
“The Teen Talk Intervention program has been effective in reducing student behavioral distress,” said Ricard. “Our program focuses on positive skill development that helps students to overcome some of the difficulties they experience in both home and school environments. The basic idea is to help increase awareness of maladaptive behaviors and have them practice more adaptive responses with their peers in group settings.”
Ricard has worked with the Corpus Christi Independent School District’s Disciplinary Alternative Educational Program for about five years.
“We are seeing a real positive change after they have gone into a session,” said Marisol Rodriguez, a counselor with the CCISD program. “It’s something they can take and use in the real world. Kids at this age are dealing with situations that some adults don’t even know how to deal with and they tell us that what the counselors provide for them is beneficial.”
Principal Douglas Cross agrees with Ricard that the therapy is effective, citing a reduction in behavioral referrals for students who receive the therapy.
When students arrive, they are offered the intervention group therapy with a University counselor twice a week for about eight weeks. Many students agree to participate, and their parents sign off as well.
Ricard said this research project is an exemplary example of how a University can address the needs of a community and give high school students the tools they need to flourish in society.