Some Monessen Middle School students are feeling the effects of affirmative action.
They are involved in the school’s program which is simply called “Positive Action”, which is offered through a partnership between the Monessen School District, Monessen Public Library, Monessen Communities That Care and the University from California from Pennsylvania.
Positive Action is a national curriculum-based program in which instruction is provided to promote a healthy and positive lifestyle.
Mathilda Spencer, an associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Psychology at Cal U., said students participated in three days of extracurricular activities — two at college and one day at the library.
“The theme is you can handle anything positively,” Spencer said. “Affirmative action is, ‘Let’s think about it, let’s look at how we can handle this. “”
Darla Holmes, program coordinator, said about 15 to 20 students regularly attend.
“We need after-school programs,” Holmes said. “We need community programs. We need all of these programs to become partners and work together for the betterment of our future. Our children are our future. We need to sit down and listen to them and help them navigate these waters but also chart their own course.
Holmes said one of Monessen Positive Action’s philosophies is Help Us Grow, or HUG.
“I came up with this because I’m a hugger,” Holmes said. “I tell them hugging, it helps me grow. You never stop growing. You never stop learning.
The program began in 2020 with a $159,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to cover it for two years through the end of the current school year.
Recently, the Richard King Mellon Foundation approved a grant of $232,000, which will allow it to continue for two years. And a $21,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County allows the program to continue through the summer.
“We’re going to be doing a program this summer on drugs (and) alcohol, making sure kids have the skills to deal with these kinds of issues that are absolutely in our community,” Spencer said.
Holmes said students will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the summer for one day of teaching and another with guest speakers.
Communities That Care has been involved since Monessen Positive Action as a program that aligns with its mission to provide research-based programs and outreach to youth and families in Monessen.
“For me, it’s like watching a miracle unfold,” said Teresa Seh, mobilizer for Monessen Communities That Care. “I see the benefits every week. They are taught practical skills to manage their emotions and make healthy choices for their lives. But I think what they get the most out of it is connecting with adults. It has lifelong impacts. The proof is that they continue to show themselves.
Other grants have been received to help promote a positive lifestyle in the areas of physical and mental fitness.
Kids of Steel, an introductory running program for young people that helps inspire children and their families to live healthy, active lives, recently presented a $1,000 grant to Monessen Positive Action, which will allow students to participate in the 1-mile Chick-fil-A Pittsburgh Kids Marathon on April 30.
“We try to get them to be active,” Holmes said. “We’re trying to get them out of this sedentary phone mode that they’re all in.”
Step Up Westmoreland presented $3,650 for programs focused on mental health awareness.
Two Cal U. students — Kaylee Hackinson of Monongahela and Josh Kramer of Baldwin — along with Monessen resident Julian Naphier, are the Monessen Positive Action facilitators.
“Their job description is to run the program,” Holmes said. “It’s students dealing with students and it can be a great way to reach college kids.”
So far, that seems to be happening.
“I’m really excited about the program,” Spencer said. “The kids are really thriving. They always take advantage of it. We hope to be able to increase our number, offering tutoring, involving teachers and having them make referrals. Monessen is such a big community. Everyone is there to do the job.