The FATHER Project and the Alternative Learning Center team up to educate teenage fathers

They believe the program is the first of its kind in the state.

Lisa Coborn, ALC coordinator, and Joe Johnson, FATHER Project coordinator, had previously connected through their work with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). ACEs are stressful or traumatic experiences that arise in the life of a child before the age of 18. Parental divorce, physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, an incarcerated parent, a history of untreated mental health and substance abuse in the home can be traumatic experiences.

“A few years ago we started talking about organizing health communication groups with children. But nothing was focused just on the young man or the young father, ”Johnson explained.

In mid-November, Johnson began teaching the Nurturing Fathers program at ALC. It aims to help adolescents develop attitudes and skills to be caring fathers. The program defines a caring father as “a man who actively provides advice, love and support to enhance the development and growth of the children in his care.”

Johnson is a master trainer and facilitator of the Nurturing Fathers program. He adjusted his schedule so that he could meet three teenage fathers on Tuesday.

“They get a really unique set of tools out of it,” Johnson said. “As I started to really think about it, as far as I could tell, there’s never been an attempt in the state of Minnesota to have this type of program in a school. “

Each young man receives Mark Perlman’s “Diary of a Foster Father”.

The discussion revolves around self-reflection and learning to relate to feelings. Johnson said, for example, that they began by visualizing their own fathers and “the little boy inside.”

“It’s getting really, really intense. What this gives them is their vulnerability and allows them to express emotions, ”he said.

It can be a painful process, Johnson said, if the boy hasn’t had a good role model father. “Now I am asking them to take this trip which could be very hurtful to them,” he said. “But if I can get them to do that, to lay it out, there’s a great healing that comes with it.”

Societal norms tell men it’s a “weakness” to express emotions or to be vulnerable, Johnson said. “What we’re saying is ‘No, it’s a force majeure.'”

Coborn warmly accepts. “This is the most important thing. We won’t get anywhere with the students if we don’t do this work with them first, ”she said.

If ACEs and emotions aren’t factored in, she continued, “it doesn’t matter how much math we give them, how much social studies. This stuff is life changing.

Coborn and Johnson hope to eventually expand the program to all young men, whether parents or not. It could also apply to young women.

“I know how difficult it is to be a father myself at my age,” said Johnson, 41. It is very hard work to be a parent. We meet them very, very young with undeveloped minds, undeveloped skill sets. The only thing they know is what they were raised with, so we give them tools to equip themselves.

The program encourages young men to learn about personal power, self-education, communication, positive social groups, teamwork, engagement and more.

Johnson said he and Coborn were working with teenagers “to make an impact in different ways, in a holistic way.”

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