About Saras Chung

Saras Chung works as the Research and Operations Manager at Wyman. She holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Washington University's Brown School and is also a weekly contributor for the Nonprofit Quarterly.

New Study Links Teen Pregnancy and Dropout, Spotlights Solutions

A new report released by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy shows that teenage pregnancy and high school dropout are linked. This newly released report puts the spotlight on innovative ways that some school systems—particularly those with low achievement levels and high birth rates—are working together with organizations that oversee teen pregnancy prevention programs to help teens avoid pregnancy and parenthood and go on to complete their high school education.

Key highlights include the following facts:

  • Parenthood is a leading cause of school dropout among teen girls. In fact, this is true for 30% of all teen girls, with minorities having higher rates (36% for Hispanic girls and 38% for African American girls).
  • One in three (34%) teen mothers earned neither a diploma nor a GED, compared with only six percent of young women who had not had a teen birth.
  • Over the course of a lifetime, a college graduate will earn, on average, $1 million more than a high school dropout. Over the course of his or her lifetime, a single high school dropout costs the nation approximately $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes and productivity.

The report then lists various ways that communities across the United States are working on the issue and offers the following strategies to address the link between teen pregnancy and high school dropout with education leaders and community partners. They suggest the following:

  • Ask parents (input from parents can lead to rich data or bottom-up strategies)
  • Educate community leaders and parents
  • Professional development for district staff and teachers
  • Periodic outreach to school administrators
  • Enlist new champions
  • Share best practices with other communities or states

To learn more, read the full report here.

Tips for the New Employee – Job Skills for Teens

Congratulations! You’ve landed your first job as a paid (or possibly unpaid) employee!  You’re one of the few. The proud. The useful. Whether you’re babysitting or filling lunch orders, here are some helpful tips to keep your job and become a highly regarded worker by your employer (think references!)

Lifeguard on duty

1. Be on time. On time doesn’t mean, ‘on time’. On time means 5 minutes before you’re supposed to be there. Employees who are dependable are looked upon favorably by employers and being punctual is one of the best ways to prove you care about your job.

2. Don’t talk/text/browse on your cell phone while working. Steer clear of the temptation to chat by leaving your phone in the car or at home. Your employer is not paying you to socialize with your family/friends. They’re paying you for your work. This is one of the biggest pet peeves employers and customers have about staff.

3. Work as if everyone’s watching. It’s easy to slack off when it seems that no one is paying attention. Your hard work, regardless if people are watching, will set you apart from those around you.

4. Smile. Check your attitude. Enthusiasm about your work cannot only help you get through the day, but improve your relations with customers, co-workers and your boss. It’s simple, but if you look as if you have better things to do, you might just get the opportunity, whether you like it or not.

5. Dress appropriately and be clean. Present yourself well! People appreciate neatness. Especially if you’re serving or making their food.

6. Don’t spend excessive time socializing with co-workers or visitors. People may want to come visit you while you work, but taking time to talk excessively with them or to give them ‘free’ things is not in your job description.

7. Think ahead. Do tasks that you haven’t been told to do yet. As a wise man once said, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.”

8. Be ready to take criticism. Listen, ask questions and adjust as necessary. It might be hard to take, but criticism can help you improve.

Work is a great way to build up to what you ultimately want to ‘be’. Use each opportunity as a stepping stone for the next. Having a positive job experience can lead to strong references and support for the next position you’d like to hold. As a last rule of thumb, be the worker that you’d want to manage.

Any others we might have missed? Comment below!

A Community at Odds: Graduating the Most ‘at-risk’

St. Louis ArchThis weekend sparks the beginning of many high school graduation ceremonies in the St. Louis metropolitan area. As seniors motivate themselves to keep going to class these last few days, feelings of relief and accomplishment fill the halls. Summer plans are made to enjoy the last hurrahs with friends and family before many prepare to move onto college. Many of these teens are transitioning into young adulthood, diplomas in hand, ready to pursue lofty dreams of achievement and success.

Just across the street, however, is another story. There are similar feelings of excitement that school is nearing its end and teens are drafting plans for the next steps in their lives. The reality, however, is that some of these seniors are just a few of those left standing. For poor communities, such as those found in the pockets of poverty that encompass our city, graduating from high school is a goal that is systemically difficult to achieve.

Consider the following:

  • Each year, approximately 1.3 million students fail to graduate from high school: more than half are students of color. (Source: All4ed.org)
  • The graduation rate among students of color is as much as 25 percentage points below their white peers. A student within the age range of 16 to 24 years old, who comes from the lowest quartile of family income, is about seven times more likely to have dropped out of high school than his/her counterpart who comes from the highest quartile.  (Source: All4ed.org)
  • Furthermore, research shows that students who reside in communities with lower levels of economic sustainability have greater obstacles to overcome:
    • Increased pressure to add to the family income
    • Poorly resourced schools
    • Lower levels of mobility and higher levels of instability (Source: Clemson University)

This means that students who are graduating from public high schools in socioeconomically depressed regions (and are perhaps also students of color), are beating the odds. The cards are stacked up against them but they are earning their diploma. And for many teens who fit this description and participate in Wyman programming, these individuals who were ‘at-risk’ of dropping out are even going onto college, persisting and obtaining degrees in higher education. We hope that you will join us as a community to congratulate those who have made it and continue to cheer for, encourage and support those that did not.

Let us never forget that when our young people succeed, so does our community. If you’d like to participate in our goal of helping teens persist through school, learn more about our programs and get involved with the work that Wyman is pursuing—to enable teen from disadvantaged circumstances to lead successful lives and build strong communities, sign up for communications from Wyman.

Ideas for ‘Date Night’ – with Your Teen

Having date nights are not only limited to your significant other. Spending quality one-on-one time with your teen can help you grow closer together and show that you enjoy their company! Although they may not say it, a national poll indicated that up to 67 percent of America’s teens say they actually want to spend more time with their parents. Moreover, research shows that when parents and teens have quality time together, their well-being is positively impacted.

Need some ideas? Here is a list of activities that would make a great ‘date night’ with your teen.

1.       Take a class together

Sewing classes, pottery lessons, drawing classes…the options are endless. Deciding on a class to take with your teen can provide an opportunity to try something new. Make sure you allow your teen to play a large role in deciding what type of class to take.

2.       Go to a farmers market

Essentially, this is a free activity. Hanging out at the farmer’s market is a great way to be introduced to new produce, interesting products and good food. For bonus points, take home what you get and make a meal together.

3.       Camp out

This one is definitely a memory-maker. Camping is a great way to get away from technology and spend quality time with your teen. Though it requires a bit more coordination, not having the distraction of laptops and video games can be a great environment for getting to know your teen and talking about deeper subjects.

4.       Get active

Hike, run, bike, swim or take a fitness class together. Spend time researching the routes or classes you will take. Warning: This may sound silly, but if prodding to get active comes off as a sideways jab to their weight or appearance, you might get some backlash. Explore with caution.

5.       Attend a performance

Outdoor theatre, movies on the lawn, the ballet/opera/symphony – depending on your community, many of these types of activities are offered for free. For performances, check your local craigslist.org for tickets people may no longer need.

6.       Volunteer together

Brainstorm a cause which you are both passionate about and discover ways to volunteer. Utilize sites like Volunteen.org or idealist.org to get connected. This is a great activity to start discussions about life, the greater community and their role in it.

What are some things that you do with your teen?

The Problem with “Disadvantaged Teens”

The most jarring practices in the field of social services surround the way we describe or talk about the young people we serve. Disadvantaged? Poor? Socioeconomically depressed? Though utilizing sensitive language to describe the factual state of communities from which our teens originate is important, one must take caution when transferring those labels directly to individual teens.

One of Wyman’s own teens said it best, “Just because I’m poor, doesn’t mean I’m lacking. Just because my family does not have much money, doesn’t mean that I’m ‘disadvantaged’. I may be ‘disadvantaged’ monetarily, but I am ‘advantaged’ in so many other ways.” Most teens would agree that though they may live in a tough community, they do not want to be pigeonholed into broad categories for charity.

As those who work with youth, we must accentuate the positive. The framework for this type of strategy is based on the ‘strengths perspective,’ a theoretical approach that emphasizes an individual’s talents, competencies, possibilities and hopes. Key concepts include empowerment, resilience and membership to a viable group or community (Saleeby, 1996). In a strengths-based approach, our choice of wording and concepts are very important. In order to utilize this effectively, one must acknowledge the factual state of a teen’s situation, alongside an individual strength that you see can help them mitigate the difficulty. (i.e., “It must be hard having a parent who works long hours, but your hard work ethic is definitely paying off in school.”)

Similarly, the concept of the ‘self-fulfilling’ prophecy is one that can work against our efforts, if not deliberately addressed. On the flipside, one strategy that can work to our advantage is the Pygmalion effect. It refers to the phenomenon where the higher the expectation that is placed upon people causes them to perform better. Rosenthal, the researcher who discovered this effect said it best, “When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur” (Rosenthal and Babad, 1985). This demonstrates that perhaps it is not only for teens that we should expect high performance, but as practitioners, we are more likely to help them and assist them in reaching those high standards as well.

Though labels like ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘poor’ may be indicative of the factual state of the places where they young people we serve reside, we must take care to not use those labels to describe the people themselves. Forecast realistic success for teens, no matter their circumstances – they will surely meet your realistic expectations.

Practical Tips:

  1. Never talk poorly about your students. As those who work on the frontline with teens, it’s natural to get upset and disappointed with your group, especially if they did not do as you expected. Though participating in gripe-sessions with fellow staff can seem like a stress-reliever for you, it may intrinsically change your expectation for your teens which can then, according to the Pygmalion effect, change your interactions with them in a negative way.
  2. Set the bar high. Establishing realistic and high expectations for your teens and helping them to achieve these standards sets teens up for positive self-esteem and the internal belief that they in fact, can, meet your expectations.
  3. Work with each teen, individually, to understand their abilities and strengths. Send them notes of encouragement that highlight their abilities and your support.

Have any other thoughts or strategies that might help? Feel free to comment below!



Rosenthal, R., and E. Y. Babad. 1985. Pygmalion in the gymnasium. Educational Leadership 43 (1): 36–39.

Saleeby, D. (1996). The strengths perspective in social work practice: Extensions and cautions. Social Work, 41, 296-305.

The Pygmalion Effect. (2012). Duquesne University. Retrieved on April 30, 2012 from: http://www.duq.edu/cte/teaching/pygmalion.cfm

Don’t Fix your Teen’s Mistakes

We live in a culture where photos are airbrushed and perfection reigns supreme. Models and celebrities parade around with flawless skin, the most fashionable clothing and pay publicists to provide damage control in not-so-flattering situations. Our culture provides role models that are seemingly perfect—a great detriment to our young people. In actuality, mistakes are a pathway to excellence.

According to Charles Kettering, a great American inventor who contributed to the development of the automobile, “An inventor fails 999 times, and if he succeeds once, he’s in. He treats his failures simply as practice shots.” Unfortunately for teens today, quotes like, “failure is not an option,” is a mentality that is woven into their being. The quote, however, is missing one important clause.

“Failure is not an option—it’s a requirement.”

Teens best understand the breadth of their resourcefulness and resilience through unfavorable conditions. As adults, it is our job to let them fully experience these times to grow, mature and learn qualities such as hardiness and optimism. It is to their detriment when we try to ‘fix’ the situation for them.

erasing mistakesHovering parents (aka “helicopter parents”) will call a teacher when their son/daughter makes a poor grade. Instead of allowing the teen to make that mistake, they argue with the teacher or ask for opportunities to complete extra credit. Not only are these parents protecting their children from failure in the classroom, but they are continuing to shield them in college and careers, as well. NPR recently highlighted helicopter parents that are contacting human resource managers to advocate on their child’s behalf, negotiating benefits and compensation for their adult-aged children! This is the manifestation of this problem – adults who are unprepared for real life.

Though it requires great restraint to watch your teen go through difficulties or potential hardship, your optimistic support can help them understand that these experiences are a part of life. By ‘being there’ for your teen, you send the message that you believe they can handle the situation. Parents that provide a listening ear as support nurture their teen’s independence into adulthood. Simply intervening on their behalf sends the message that they are not able to deal with their mistakes.


Do you cover for your teen’s mistakes? (Examples of such behavior include parents who complete their child’s late homework assignments, allowing them to stay home when they did not finish an assignment and those who cover for their teens when things go awry with friendships, etc.)

Though the motive of such actions comes from deep care and love for your child, these are not the types of reactions that will help them grow and learn from their difficulties.

Instead of providing damage control for your teen, think about ways that you can help them use these experiences to grow.  We are all human. We all make mistakes. The difference between a mistake from which one can grow or become impaired is the process of how one recovers from it. Failure should not be scrutinized under a microscope, but rather by taking 50 steps away from it and examining it in context.

Consider the following questions as a framework to calmly and nonjudgmentally discuss topics of failure with your teen:

  1. Why do you think this happened?
  2. Why did you react the way you did? (Encourage them to use “I” statements such as, “I felt _____, when _________”)
  3. What do you think would have helped?
  4. What support do you need from me?

These are questions that can help foster critical thinking about such mishaps and provide an opportunity for growth and improvement.

Five Ways to Help Teens Make the Most of Their Summer

The lazy days of summer are right around the corner, and for any of us who work with teens – or parent them –  we know that their months off can be a great way to get in the experience, skills and development they need to mold their own futures and aspirations. Check out our list of things you can encourage teens to do while also enjoying time with friends and family.

1.     Plan to take your teen on a college visit

Teens are much more likely to envision themselves on a campus and thereby set goals for themselves when they see what college is really like (versus what they hear from their peers and television). Coordinate with your teen to visit schools of interest. Most Admissions Departments are designed to give tours for students at any time. Sometimes all it takes for teens to obtain the motivation and inspiration to set academic and career goals is actually seeing what the end result might look like and picturing themselves in that arena.

2.     Encourage your teen to spend their time doing something meaningful

Utilize sites like www.volunteennation.org or www.dosomething.org to encourage your teen to work on a project of their own interest. Whether it’s tending to a community garden or helping build houses through Habitat for Humanity, there are many things to do that can foster a greater sense of community, work skills and empathy for your teen. Try not to dictate the activity your teen will engage in but help facilitate the conversation of their interests and what they’d like to do. If you get their friends involved, even better! Teens do better with peers and doing something positive together can only be beneficial for their friendship. Also check out: www.idealist.org, www.volunteermatch.org.

3.     Setup career-shadowing opportunities

A great way to help teens get a realistic sense of what it means to grow up and become a doctor, stylist, engineer, ice-cream taste tester, etc. is to have them live a week in the life of their career of choice. If your personal networks do not include any of the above careers, try calling a local professional association of whatever career path they are considering to get ideas.

4.     Encourage teens to take a summer job

Earning one’s first paycheck is one of the most memorable and meaningful events for a young teen. The correlation between hard work and wages is one that can provide life lessons that go beyond high school. Encourage teens to take on summer work as a way to keep them engaged, responsible and honing their skills and resume. Not only does working build up their potential for future success, with the right support, it also allows them to learn responsibility with finances. Everyone starts somewhere. Some of our nation’s most accomplished individuals learned the basics of hard work while bagging groceries, selling clothing, flipping burgers or lifeguarding. Check out  www.snagajob.com for resources specifically tailored to high school students.

5.     Find opportunities to help them build their semi-resume

One of the biggest leaps that teens have to take from high school to college is gaining experience that is meaningful to their future aspirations. Though few expect teens to have a full-blown resume by the time they graduate, suggesting the documentation of pertinent activities takes them one step closer to their career goals. All of the activities mentioned above are legitimate experiences that colleges want to see. Compiling a preliminary resume is also a moment to look back and reflect on their work. You can utilize this process to help facilitate a discussion on whether or not they are heading in the trajectory they want to go and what support can help them get there. This is a great goal-setting process that sets the stage for a future career and lifetime of success.

Whatever you encourage your teen to do this summer; remember that your support and guidance is of the greatest importance. It’s not about WHAT they do, but how they go through the process. Being there for them will create lasting impressions beyond today and tomorrow. Have any others you’d like to add? Comment below!

‘Bully’ – A Must See Movie

Were you ever bullied in school? Do you remember seeing someone else get made fun of or physically harmed by their peers? It usually starts with behind-the-back name calling— “fat,” “smelly”, “ugly.” If that’s not damaging enough, words then progress into teasing, crowd-victimization and many times, physical harm.

For 12-year old, Alex Libby, a boy with Asperger’s syndrome that was featured in the movie ‘Bully,’ enduring victimization by schoolmates was an everyday reality. “They used to call me names first. Once the high schoolers got on the bus, they would do stuff to me like poke me with pencils or strangle me. Then, the other kids joined in and tried out new things,” Libby recounts.

According to the filmmakers of ‘Bully,’ a documentary shining light onto the heartbreaking issues surrounding the victimization that occurs in schools, over 13 million young people will experience some form of mental or physical violence this year. Directed by Emmy and Sundance award-winning director Lee Hirsch, the documentary follows five kids and their families over the course of one school year and the ways that bullying affects their lives.

The movie gives a face to the bullying epidemic, highlighting the story of real kids, teens, parents and schools. Though it was originally given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America due to explicit language and footage of bullying, the Weinstein Company, who is releasing this film will release it with ‘no rating’ from MPAA but a rating of “Pause 13+” from Common Sense Media. Common Sense Media is a nonprofit advocacy group that reviewed the film and describes each scene that might cause controversy. It also includes a parent’s guide to discuss the topic with teens.

The director of the movie said in a recent statement, “I made Bully for kids to see—the bullies as well as the bullied. We have to change hearts and minds in order to stop this epidemic, which has scarred countless lives and driven many children to suicide.”

At Wyman, we believe that bullying, or peer victimization, is a very serious matter. Teens not only need the tools to avoid such behavior, but also need to encouragement to become empathetic, caring and concerned citizens to fellow peers and the greater community. We hold the expectation that all teens will not only respect each other, but also have the confidence and bravery to stand up to fellow peers who may engage in such harmful behaviors.

This movie is set to be released on March 30th. Locally, this film will be shown in St. Louis on April 13th and 21st at the Landmark Theatre at Plaza Frontenac.

Watch the Trailer here:

Find the event on Facebook.

Check out the website: thebullyproject.com


How to Talk with Your ‘Twitterpated’ Teen

Twitterpated? No, this doesn’t have anything to do with writing in 140 characters or less. The term comes from the Disney classic Bambi. In this clip, the wise owl is teaching all of the woodland creatures what they may experience with the onset of spring.

Friend Owl: Yes. Nearly everybody gets twitterpated in the springtime. For example: You’re walking along, minding your own business. You’re looking neither to the left, nor to the right, when all of a sudden you run smack into a pretty face. Woo-woo! You begin to get weak in the knees. Your head’s in a whirl. And then you feel light as a feather, and before you know it, you’re walking on air. And then you know what? You’re knocked for a loop, and you completely lose your head!

Many of us remember our first love experience as if it was yesterday. The feelings of our own “twitterpation” are feelings unmatched. Like a menacing disease of the brain, that special boy/girl invaded our thoughts, minds and ruminations. A great amount of time was spent staring off in a dumb-stupor, thinking of that person. Like the wise old owl in Bambi depicts, it could happen to you, and you and you!

The fluttering heart and emotions that one feels when ‘in love,’ is like a drug. Researchers have found that the feeling the owl calls ‘twitterpated’ activates parts of the brain that are also activated in cocaine addicts. It is a very powerful feeling that can make us do things that we never dreamed. How many of us can recount doing something for ‘love’ without thinking about how it might complicate our lives? There is a question we should pose, especially for young people who have never experienced this feeling: Is this love or infatuation?

Without experience in the field of romantic relationships, the first time facing this strange feeling can be confusing for teens. Often, as practitioners and parents, we spend a large portion of our time and worry on teaching kids how ‘not’ to get pregnant, or contract an STI. We sometimes forget to discuss how to deal with the emotional aspects that come with developing romantic interests and that it’s completely normal for some teens to go through these emotions.

Teaching teens how to keep themselves physically healthy is of great importance. But equally important is spending time with teens to discuss how to regulate feelings and emotions that are exchanged in such relationships. Understanding what a healthy relationship looks like can save teens from a myriad of complicated issues—both physically and mentally.

Ask them questions that help them explore these topics in a safe and caring environment that is not meant to judge them, but to facilitate a healthy conversation pathway:

  • What does it mean to be in love?
  • How do you think people who love one another act towards one another?
  • What is needed for a long-term relationship between two people?
  • How can being in a relationship affect friendships?

These are all great places to start. Being “Twitterpated” is such a wonderful human feeling but it can often be distorted through what media and friends convey. Caring and thoughtful adults who can be there to support teens through these exciting, yet confusing, feelings are necessary to not only help teens avoid problematic outcomes, but to thrive in their relationships as well.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten – But Why?

Image from OpenLibrary.org

Remember that kitschy little book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten?  You might remember flashbacks of it during its peak in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Cute little posters were made with the text, and teachers proudly displayed it in their classrooms. The ingenuity of its simpleness spawned a #1 New York Times Bestseller with over 7 million copies sold. The author, Robert Fulghum had apparently struck a sensitive nerve for many Americans–we all need to know the basic principles of ‘how to be a person’, not simply in grade school.

Share everything.

Play fair.

Don’t hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

…Live a balanced life.

Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day.

In education, there are wild debates about whether teachers even have the capacity to teach these types of lessons that encourage social and emotional skills within their day. Given the emphasis on testing, national standards and the lagging achievement in American education, teachers are often overwhelmed with the academic information they must teach their classrooms, let alone lessons around responsibility and empathy.

As a nation, solely emphasizing skills in math and science is short-sighted. Though academic achievement is important, it cannot be attained when neglecting the social and emotional needs of our kids. Promotion from kindergarten indicates that the work of becoming a compassionate and understanding person is done.

Yet, these are lessons that must be taught and reinforced throughout life. Relationships only get stickier as we get older. Friendships can become more intricate as elementary schoolers progress to middle school. However learning how to be kind and respectful is a quality that can create stronger communities across the nation. Perhaps a symptom of this breakdown is what seems to be an increase in the severity of bullying in communities both rural and urban.

Teaching How to be a Person Bolsters Academic Achievement!

Research finds that when young people have the basic social and emotional skills to handle everyday life, not only does it enhance their general well-being, but their achievement soars as well. We see this phenomenon being realized in youth development programs on a daily basis and it’s been proven by countless studies conducted by numerous researchers such as the National Collaboration for Youth. In a brief on school success, the National Collaboration for Youth found that “the motivation and concentration levels of young people were much higher in informal youth programs than they were in school (or when hanging out with friends), suggesting the untapped power in youth development programs that can positively impact school performance.”

Why not do both? If research shows these types of skills are critical to learning, wouldn’t it be mutually beneficial for both types of teaching to occur? It is probably true that given the stress on teachers today, they feel they do not have the expertise or time to teach students how to be a good neighbor, make positive decisions or set achievable goals. However, replicating youth development programs in partnership with schools might just be the answer to both issues.

Embedding programs such as Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program, which teaches skills such as good communication and self-regulation, within the school day is just one example of how Wyman is taking an innovative approach to preparing teens to not only be academically qualified, but socially and emotionally ready to become productive members of society. These are lessons that should not only be taught when our young people are first placed into the school system, but also taught throughout their lives. Check out more about our embedded partnership with University City here.