Hidden Curriculum (Boostrom, 2010) consists of learning material that is not defined by curriculum planners or teachers. The majority of these programs are secular and instructional material in nature that will help students in a non-denominational modus operand. Used effectively, it can lead to a positive change in students’ attitudes toward learning and life in general. One type of hidden curriculum that has been shown to be instrumental in improving low-achieving students’ performance and attitude is the Palomares Spiritual Empowerment Program (PSEP), which has been in operation since March 2014, with impressive outcomes. This three-layer structure, both in design and implementation, has yielded outstanding results, not just in the lives of the students, but more so in the lives of the facilitators who participate in the program. The benefits that the facilitators obtain are enhanced and assured in their closely-involved process with their expert supervisor and trainer in the program’s collaboration with the school administrators and parents, who value the unique and complementary contribution of this program. PSEP promises an instrumental and effective outcome based on:
- Focus on critical thinking
- Inclusive cultural curriculum
- A blended-learning implementation with individuals and collaborative activities
- A project-based approach
- Alignment with Common Core standards.
PSEP is a zenith of collaboration between trainer, supervisor, facilitator, and learner, bringing together a dyadic mentorship that not only helps the learner but will also greatly impact the learner.
The Palomares Spiritual Empowerment Program (PSEP), a brainchild of The Center for Global Integrated Education, Inc. (CGIE), a non-profit educational organization, was developed to address the needs for a mentorship program in Pomona Unified School District. The PSEP is a Baha’i-inspired approach to spiritual empowerment distinguished by special attention to the principle of the oneness of all humanity and mindful of the diversity of needs of the students individually and collectively for an integrated educational approach and strategies in the application that focuses on the inner powers and strengths of each student. Skill building in the area of multiple intelligences enables students to better serve their community and the greater global village. By developing competency in self-reflection, students will learn critical thinking skills in asking life-changing questions and setting goals for self-improvement. Students gain not only knowledge, but wisdom, spiritual insight, and eloquent speech by means of arts, music, storytelling, practicing communication, consultation, collaboration, consensus building, creativity, and critical thinking in the service of the greater good (CGIE, 2017).
The educators at CGIE aim to promote, develop, supply, and support educational programs that could introduce a new system of the culturally integrated educational curriculum in collaboration with school administrators and parents dedicated to providing a prosocial environment for students. Among these educational programs, the Palomares Spiritual Empowerment Program (PSEP), which has been in operation since March 2014, has resulted in successful outcomes based on the observational assessment and testimonials discussed in this paper (CGIE, 2017).
The PSEP program started as an after-school, curriculum initially at the request of PUSD visionary Superintendent, Richard Martinez who was impressed by the social justice service projects of CGIE in the inner city neighborhoods of Pomona. Recognizing that schools are a safer and more unifying venue for the effective results of the project, he invited and paved the way for CGIE to offer their services through PUSD. In consultation, Palomares Academy of Health Sciences was selected. Principal Dr. Camille Beal, teachers, and school counselor were invited to suggest students who showed potential for leadership and service to the betterment of their school and community. Soon 25 students brought consent from parents to attend a two-hour and half weekly session with CGIE trainers. The content of the program aimed for a deeper understanding of the organic oneness of all humanity ever mindful of the abilities and capabilities of each participant and their questions. It included mindful meditation, virtues learning, spiritual and social questions and discussions, stories, songs, and art in service of pro-social attitudes and behaviors, emotional management skills, as well as consultation and conflict resolution skills.
The ongoing support, consultation, cooperation, and feedback between PUSD, parents, and the CGIE team played a significant role in the unfolding assessment of the needs of the students, the effectiveness of the process, the creative nature of delivery, and the success of the program. Among the key participants in consultation and evaluation were Superintendent Martinez, his deputy Fernando Mesa, Principal Dr. Beal, vice principal Jillian Davis, Counselor Scott Shone, teachers, office staff, and parents. Students submitted their journal reflections and feedback at the conclusion of each class and their views were taken into account in the design and delivery of the curriculum. The feedback from students, teachers, parents, school counselors, principals, and even Superintendent Martinez became an integrated part of our ongoing assessment and evaluation. Three years into the program in consultation with principal Dr. Beal, we agreed to offer the program as a once-a-week, two and half-hour in-school classroom during the project period to 10 and 11th graders who showed the capacity to serve as mentors and resources for their school and community. The following year, again with consultation with the principal, we were asked if we could offer the program every day with an added dimension of transformative mediation. Student participants were multi-age from freshman to senior as they all came under the same roof for their learning. The age difference and lack of trust among the students to talk and share their views, thoughts, and feelings on different subjects, and the interactive style of delivery initially was a challenge but gradually they learned not only to welcome the interactive style of learning but to love, support and trust one another and care for each others’ concerns. The cheerful, respectful, and loving relationship of the interns with each other, with the supervisor, and with the students was a most transformative and effective influence.
Palomares empowerment/transformative mediation program is mindfulness and spiritual empowerment training program provided by the Center for Global Integrated Education (CGIE). CGIE’s guiding philosophy has been the elevation of content, as well as the process of education, in order to manifest the latent capacities of smartness as well as goodness in students. The program was designed specially to address the social, emotional, psychological, cultural, and moral needs of high school students in a global culture.
The program was supervised by a licensed marriage, family, and child therapist and assisted through the dedicated services of five college facilitator interns. Based on discussions with the principal and how she recognized her students’ need for prosocial understanding, CGIE designed and implemented PSEP, with a necessary appreciation for the role of the parents in sustaining the outcome of the program. PSEP invited the participation and support of parents to join their children to explore what it takes to create prosperous and peaceful communities. Palomares Academy of Health Sciences had the advantage of being relatively small; with 400 or so students. PSEP appreciated ongoing consultation with Principal Dr. Beal about how the program was meeting its goals and what changes could make it even better. She would personally participate in the training at times to support any sign of progress in the conduct of the students on campus.
CGIE has been in partnership with Claremont Colleges, Cal Poly Pomona, and La Verne University on social justice and educational projects that are based on the principle of the organic oneness of all humanity. Consequently, with the birth of PSEP, the nearby colleges offered internship opportunities to undergrad volunteer students to join the team at CGIE in developing, promoting, and executing the program as an after-school mentorship and eventually to the everyday in-class curriculum. The supervisor pre-plans the lesson of the day with the three foci of the program in mind:
- (a) focus on critical thinking;
- (b) Inclusive cultural curriculum;
- (c) a blended-learning implementation with individual and collaborative activities,
- (d) a project-based approach;
- (e) alignment with common core standards.
These lesson plans also contain social, emotional, spiritual, and developmental milestones mechanisms in addition to being reviewed with the mentor/facilitator for training and brainstorming.
The second tier involves the training of the mentors/facilitators. These undergrad interns come to the internship with life questions of their own and are majoring in social sciences; therefore, are curious to use their knowledge in theories and theory application. They are motivated to collaborate with the supervisor to bring the lessons into the classroom. During the brainstorming session for lessons planned, interns actively participate and explore how to incorporate current social and spiritual issues in the program. Before each lesson, the supervisor and the Mentors/Facilitators spend three or more hours of training per week reflecting on the strength and needs of the students based on their participation in the weekly lessons, their journals, and collective observation. At this time, some activities may be added or modified. It is extremely important that the facilitators are genuinely interested in serving their communities and are well versed in the nature of the lesson, its connection to the PSEP curricular premise (the five focus items mentioned above), and its applicability to students’ background and social/emotional availability and strength.
Participants were selected students ranging from freshman to senior level in higher academic standing, who live in a disadvantaged and stressful environment and needed proper social and emotional guidance and support to be curious, strong, hopeful and resilient, and willing to explore how to address and find solutions to the problems of their own life, home life, school, and community. The sample population for this latest stage of our pilot study was purposely designed to be small in order to better analyze individual results of each student’s transformation in addition to exploring opportunities for improvement and modification in the program if needed.
Typical Lesson Planned
At the end of each session, everyone takes time to meditate and reflect upon what they experienced, their thoughts, their feelings, their hopes, and the plans of action to make their tomorrow better than today. The students appreciate the universal power of their wishes and prayers, especially the power they have in wishing the best for each other and those who struggle, so everyone gets a chance to make progress, feel included, supported, illumined, loved, and therefore empowered to be their best.
Objectives/Goals/Specific Aim of PSEP
Mentorship programs often start as a school program; however, due to the nature of such programs, the mentors often enter the homes and communities of the mentee. The impact of this one-on-one interaction spills over and beyond the mentee affecting their relationship with peers, parents, and their own intrapersonal improvement (Lakind, Atkins, & Eddy, 2016). The dyad relationship between the youth mentee and mentor is an individualized, supportive, and non-parental interpersonal connection that promotes positive developmental milestones. (DuBois & Karcher, 2005; Keller & Pryce, 2010); however, it is essential that the mentor establishes a dyadic relation with the mentee to not only understand, but become part of the mentee’s social networks interacting with these members (Keller & Blakeslee, 2013). Based on the need for dyadic and social interaction need between mentor and mentee, the PSEP program is mindful of the importance the community and family members play in supporting the new skills and the open mindset learned as the result of the program. The goal is to develop and foster students’ full potential beyond the classroom by giving them a global vision and a sense of belonging. Through home visits and adult interaction and lessons planned, art, food, music, mentors model as well as encourage students the process celebrates unity in diversity in a wonderfully diverse global village.
This is a descriptive, exploratory, qualitative, and observational study designed to make an informal assessment of the PSEP program currently used in the Pomona School District. The methodology is directly observational documenting the selected students’ outcomes in an experimental mentorship program. The Pomona Unified School District (PUSD) is predominately in a low socioeconomic (SES) neighborhood, where most of the population is blue-collar working-class with distressing cares and concerns.
The population was selected from the high school students recommended by the principal and consented by the parents to participate in the study. The sample population was 25 students of both male and female genders – 4 seniors, and 3 freshmen were chosen to participate in the final stage of the pilot program.
Two instruments are used to assess the PSEP program:
(1) semi-structured interview of students and parents, and
(2) students’ daily reflective journal, of their understanding of each session’s learning and how it was helping them to be hopeful and resilient.
Results – Multi Factorial Elements in the Success of Palomares
The students’ journals after each class were one source of evaluation. Parents’ and teachers’ feedback about students’ change of behavior and joy in learning was taken into account. The comments of the school psychologist noticing the change of behavior of students such as showing compassion for other students and teachers, being willing and taking pride in serving others in need, using deescalating responses to other students’ aggressive remarks, entering the classroom with a smile and greeting the teacher with loving respect, taking a deep breath and pause to avoid reacting to a hostile remark, being mindful of being hungry, angry, lonely, and tired and address these personal needs so they are more resilient in times of stress or family chaos. The video documentaries of classroom activities, where students share before each class what they remember from their last class and what they have found to be elevated to them in their relationships in school and at home, and the joyful participation of the students in the activities in the group were taken as positive outcomes of PSEP mentorship program. The Superintendent, the District, and all involved informed CGIE what a difference they are making in the critical group they were serving. A solid supporter of PSEP from early on, Superintendent Martinez, at a gathering publically announced that he was truly impressed with the program results. Also, other instrumental factors in the positive result of PSEP are described below:
The Role of School District Administration
The Empowerment Program at Palomares Academy of Health Sciences owes its inception to the vision of Superintendent Martinez, who, through his Faith-Based round-table meetings, invited the communities to serve and support the Pomona Unified School District. The support of the district and school administrators, such as Fernando Mesa and Principal Camille Beal, Vice-Principal Davis, and the entire school staff has been most instrumental in the success of the program. The program has won two rounds of awards from the School District, the City of Pomona, and the Legislator for creating and supporting unity in the community.
The Role of School Administrators
One of the contributing factors to the positive outcome of PSEP is the role of the principal, Dr. Beal, by her wholehearted support and active participation in the empowerment program design and outcome. To create an organic transformation in the unity and the oneness of her school, Principal Beal invited the supervisor of PSEP, Keyvan Geula LMFT to offer self-care training for the teachers and staff. This was yet another successful strategy as part of the overall school’s efforts to improve the collaborative spirit of the faculty and student body.
Role of Parents
Principal Beal had been searching for a mentorship program to address the needs of her students and due to the initial success of the CGEI’s community outreach programs, the PSEP was created to meet these needs in the school community. At this point, Dr. Beal welcomed the offer of CGEI to train the parents in an integrated approach to positive parenting and affirm the foundation of close collaboration between the parents and the PSEP program. The loving collaboration across ages provided a healthy example of closing the dysfunctional generation gap between parents and students by providing vital information on how to be firm and loving in their parenting style and communication with their children.
The Role of Students
The joy and benefits of being outdoors, working in the gardens, harvesting food, playing soccer, exploring the metaphors of life in nature, translating prayers and spiritual concepts into beautiful actions, murals, and other art forms, and learning to cook and eat together, building friendships, transcending stereotypes, and learning to have loving communication and consensus-building consultation, integrates the daily life skills into a memorable and empowering learning experience. As an example of global integration, the students had an exciting Skype meeting with like-minded youth in Venezuela and felt empowered by sharing common interests such as taking pride in doing community service and caring for the well-being of all humanity. To eliminate religious prejudice, they participated in an interfaith walk for peace and unity and sang a song in celebration of oneness. The students observe their own transformation and feel empowered to have transcended the common pitfalls of arguing and fighting on the school ground and feel happy and proud to share their success with others. They decided to create their own skits about the empowerment program and the process itself has been most joyous and empowering. Students invited their parents to join them in their milestone celebrations dinner reception hearing what their students are proud to have achieved. Parents were welcomed to share their observations of the progress of their students manifested by loving gestures and conduct at home in service of their parents and family. Parents were welcomed to sit on curriculum design consultations and expressed how gratifying it was to witness what is involved in the process.
As stated by Bass and Avolio (1993), communicant and team building are essential elements in mentoring and transformational programs. Effective communication becomes essential for the mentor in delivering the right message to the students who participate in such programs, in which the main principles of PSEP are taught by the mentor and learned by the mentee. Another important aspect of mentorship programs is to target the social-emotional learning (SEL) of the mentee. In recent studies of SEL, findings showed that combining social-emotional training in group learning has a positive impact on competencies, and attitudes towards self, others, and school. This training also helps to improve students’ conduct towards prosocial behavior, which is one of the principles of PSEP. Research by Durlak, Dymnicki, Taylor, Schellinger and Weissberg (2011) on the impact of School-Based Universal Interventions programs led to the conclusion that the social-emotional learning of students should also be part of such curricula. The problem still remains that not all students have been taught pro-social behavior and many lack social-emotional competencies. These students are less connected to the school as they transition to secondary education and this incompetency and disconnection negatively affect their academic performance, behavior, and health (Blum & Libbey, 2004 as cited by Durlak et al, 2011). For these students, such integration of SEL into mentorship and leadership programs becomes an essential part of their learning. SEL combines teachings on how to develop a protective mechanism for social adjustment while promoting a positive framework for youth development (Benson, 2006; Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, & Hawkins, 2002; Guerra & Bradshaw, 2008; Weissberg, Kumpfer, & Seligman, 2003 as cited in Durack, 2011). In the area of SEL, PSEP has designed its curriculum on the premise of conflict resolution through positive conduct, mindful of the well-being of humanity and its own spiritual self.
A key challenge still remains to be the matter of serving diverse students with different cultural backgrounds, abilities, and motivational agendas for learning (Learning First Alliance, 2001 as cited by Durlak et al., 2011). Past research has shown that designing a program that meets the different cultures and backgrounds of students has a higher positive impact on the academic engagement and prosocial activities of the participants (Battistich, Schaps, & Wilson, 2004). The most important skill in prosocial development would be empathy and connectedness, which will improve the interpersonal relationships of the individual (Elliott, Gresham, Freeman, & McCloskey, 1988). It is also imperative that both the school and the organization, which coordinated the program must interact in total support to ensure a more successful outcome. The relationship between CGIE, the founder of the PSEP, and the PUSD, particularly, the superintendent, Richard Martinez has shown to be a reflection of this research finding. Positive support from both agencies will lead to a positive outcome for the mentorship program.
Another important element in the success of PSEP is the contribution of caring interns from Claremont Colleges, Cal Poly Pomona, University of La Verne, and Cal State Fullerton interns. As part of pedagogical development and community engagement, universities are increasingly collaborating with service-oriented organizations for the purpose of imprinting socially conscious communities (Reeb, Folger, Langsner, Ryan, & Crouse, 2010). This dual engagement benefits students, who have an opportunity to serve their community in addition to benefiting society at large (Altman, 1996). The above institutions have certainly taken the lead in community engagement and social promotion.
The researchers acknowledge that more studies and data across multiple and specific measurements of outcome areas are needed. The PSEP is in its infancy of design and implementation; therefore, it has yet to be tested multiple times in a variety of socioeconomic statuses and school districts to examine its universality and application in various contexts. It is recommended by the researchers that, while PSEP at Palomares has shown promising and successful results, other schools should be encouraged to participate in a similar pilot study in order to increase the reliability and validity of the program. It is noteworthy to mention that there is currently no standardized approach or theory-driven technique to look at the social-emotional skill-building programs (Dirks, Treat, & Weersing, 2007); however, programs such as PSEP may be instrumental in the creation of such assessment and measurement tools. In addition, the researchers recommend that a formal assessment of the PSEP program be conducted by a university in order to show, in detail, how the program works in various school contexts.
The PSEP program began with an after-school empowerment program for junior high and high school students and eventually grew, in consultation with everyone involved, into in-school empowerment, transformative mediation, and community-building mentorship program. The participating students were selected from a pool of recommended students by their school for having demonstrated the potential to be role models and resources to their school and their community. The selection process brings to attention the importance of collaboration and community engagement in the success of this program. In addition, the school administrators and school district play an integral role in ensuring such success, which is definitely worth exploring in future mentorship programs. The elements that need more attention and improvement have to do with greater collaboration and involvement with the parents, whose training in integrating parenting and community engagement is an essential and important part of a mentorship program. As research has shown, mentorship programs working in isolation generally do not yield the same high success rate as collaborative programs do. PSEP utilizes the maximum amount of engaging, empowering, interactive strategies and activities to guide mentees in how to articulate, understand, and communicate resolving issues. The program uses lessons that incorporate open-mindedness and strategies that are necessary for their success not only in the remainder of school life but also after leaving their teen years and entering college and beyond.
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