That's the message of a report from Project Cornerstone — a YMCA of Silicon Valley-led effort to build a community where "all adults support children and teens so they thrive." The report, which was recently delivered to the board of trustees of the Mountain View Whisman School District, is a snapshot of what Santa Clara County has to offer its young teens.
The report focuses on what Project Cornerstone calls "developmental assets" — "common sense positive experiences and qualities that help influence choices young people make." Family support, a caring neighborhood, positive adult role models, high expectations and a sense of purpose are all examples of developmental assets.
A county-wide study was conducted in 2010 to determine which communities had the highest levels of developmental assets. After the data was collected, researchers took a year to draw conclusions. They found that communities where young people had access to more developmental assets had fewer problems with youth engaging in high-risk behaviors.
"It's not rocket science," said Anne Ehersman, executive director of Project Cornerstone. "This research is not surprising. But there is a power in naming it and a power in recognizing it."
Once that happens, she said, people can begin to do something about it.
Craig Goldman, superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District, said he agrees with the main thrust of the report. Adults, he said — even those without children — should do all they can to support the youth in their community. It seems to him that Mountain View does a fairly good job of offering support to teens, he said.
"It's ironic, because Mountain View — through the parks and recreation department, the schools, the YMCA and a variety of other organizations — offers an incredible amount of outreach and activity for middle school-aged students," he said.
The problem, must be that "the message isn't coming through," he postulated.
"Developmentally, we expect students in their middle school years to shift their attention away from adults and toward their peers," Goldman said. "It's not surprising to see kids respond that they don't necessarily feel valued."
But even though it can be challenging to connect with children in the middle school age range, Goldman said, it is important that his district do its part. "We should be working that much harder to maintain our connections at a time when kids are much more easily influenced by peers or the media."
To address the gap in communication, Goldman said that his district has initiated programs similar to those recommended by Project Cornerstone. Both MVWSD middle schools have a list of values — "pillars" at Graham and "paws" at Crittenden — that students are asked to memorize and keep in mind every day.
In addition, a series of video public service announcements, produced by Graham and Crittenden students, is in the works. These videos will be shown on the schools' closed-circuit television network. The plan is to make sure students recognize what's available and to encourage them to take advantage of those opportunities.
"Middle school is a challenging time, but just because there may be obstacles (for middle schoolers) doesn't mean there are barriers. We can work around obstacles," Goldman said.