Pictured: Joanna Munoz and Belinda Martinez from the Juvenile Probation Department became certified to teach the "Why Try" course to help students with self-esteem issues before they get into serious trouble. Photo by MAURICIO JULIAN CUELLAR JR.

New program offered to troubled youth

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Many students and parents perceive the Jim Wells County Juvenile Probation Department as the last stop on the line.

But officials with the department are doing their best to stress a more proactive approach when it comes to dealing with troubled youth.

One recent step is the "Why Try" program, which assists students in dealing with self-esteem issues and learning teamwork.

Seven students recently completed the voluntary program.

It is a 10-session course, with one-hour sessions given twice a week. It is the first time department officials have been able to offer an in-house program, and they're hoping to extend it to other students soon.

This time around, the course was voluntary, but the students were referred to the program. None of the students were on probation, but they did previously exhibit behavior of which department officials took note, and "Why Try" attempts to assist the students before problems or issues become serious.

JWC Juvenile Probation Department Director James Schmidt said the classes went well, and all the students showed up on their own initiative.

"These individuals were each referred by their supervising officers, the kids that we thought just made a few mistakes and we thought this would help them," he said. "I'm hoping this will work out, so that we can also initiate this into conditions of probation, as one of their counseling activities the judges might make them do. So far, this is a voluntary program."

Schmidt said he believed the sessions went well.

"None of these kids are on probation. It's part of what we're trying to do to be proactive, to point these students in the right direction, before they get into real trouble. Our goal is to have 10 to 15 students per class. I attended most of the sessions, and I think it went really well," he said.

Schmidt said there were about 75 to 100 students from across Jim Wells County who could benefit from the program.

"These are not bad students," Schmidt said, "they just need a little guidance when it comes to communication skills and arguments."

Course instructor Joanna Munoz said the students got involved during the sessions.

"They were active in the lessons and they learned how to put it together pretty much on their own. Once one of them opens up, they let their guards down," she said. "In the beginning, we set the rules and let them know that whatever happens here stays here. They wouldn't be made fun of or ridiculed. It became a sort of safe ground for the students."

The changes in the students, just from attending class these last few weeks, have been noticeable, officials said.

"They've shared about things at home, how they handle situations differently now with their parents. Instead of snapping back at them, they now use other alternatives," Munoz said. "The main thing for parents is just to be open, and take in their ideas. Also, our door is always open. You don't have to be in trouble to go to juvenile probation for assistance. We can be there as one avenue to turn to, instead of just waiting until they get into trouble or break the law to come to us."