URI collaborates with Tides Family Services on sociology course

“It was an honor to work with the URI students this past week.  Giving them an opportunity to see how services that prevent family disruption is critical in child welfare today.  We hope more students will look to us for internships and job placement.- Beth Bixby, Chief Executive Officer

NARRAGANSETT – A degree in sociology presents many career pathways upon graduation, a fact that sometimes can escape graduates facing the real world for the first time. A new collaborative program between the University of Rhode Island and the Ocean Tides School at the Christian Brothers Center in Narragansett and Tides Family Services in Providence, two Christian Brothers/LaSallian child welfare ministries, is hoping to show sociology students the vast array of career options in the field of sociology, while also assisting at-risk teens and youth simultaneously. The program, Sociology 497: Field Experience: Juvenile Justice Immersion, sees participating URI students attend both Ocean Tides and Tides Family Services to become acquainted with the services offered to the ministries’ clients. The program is headed by URI sociology and anthropology professor Dr. Judy Van Wyk, Ocean Tides president Brother James Martino and Tides Family Services chief operating officer Beth Lemme-Bixby.

Certified by the Rhode Island Department of Education, Ocean Tides and Tides Family Services are educational programs for at-risk youth and teens struggling with academics and possibly the law. Between the two organizations exist three schools educating students in grades five through 12, among other services such as social work. At Ocean Tides in Narragansett, the full school faculty teach all high school-aged male students and offer  vocational courses in the form of culinary arts, building maintenance and agriculture through its residential educational program. Last year, the high school graduated 13 students who previously may have never received a diploma. Tides Family Services, established in 1983, has 130 staff members serving over 500 male and female students each day through an array of programs geared to meet the needs of the diverse population of its clientele in northern Rhode Island.

The idea for a collaboration between the two Tides and URI formed out of a similar collaborative program last year between Ocean Tides, Tides Family Services and St. Mary’s University. Van Wyk, who served as a speaker in the program and had written a book on Ocean Tides, wanted to see the initiative continue. As a result, Van Wyk and Martino began to work on a new, short but intensive educational experience for students at the University of Rhode Island. That vision came to life this week as students in the program attended both institutions.

Van Wyk said one of the purposes of the course was to expose sociology students to the different kinds of work available to them in the field.

“Students get a lot of information in their classes, but they sometimes don’t get enough information about what to do with their degree in sociology,” she said. “Even students pursuing their degree in criminology, they don’t all want to be police officers. There are hundreds of things to do with this background. What typically happens is a student goes all the way through and gets to the end and looks for a job in sociology and there’s nothing there because we don’t call it ‘sociology.’”

“I wanted to give them an idea of what you can do, all of the things that they’re trained  for already from their education and what they can do with that,” Van Wyk continued. “Another reason was a lot of the students don’t come from Rhode Island, they’re out-of-state students. They don’t know what’s going on at the state house, they don’t know what’s going on in the job market. I wanted to expose them to those kinds of things as well, and maybe it’d be nice if some of them stay after graduation if they’re acquainted with the culture.”

The URI professor added she had only 10 spots available for the course, but received nearly 30 applications. She hopes to expand the program in the future.

The 10 participating URI students are split into two groups of five students each and alternated days between visiting Ocean Tides School and Tides Family Services throughout the week and learned about the different services each institution offers. On Wednesday, all 10 students attended a meeting with the state’s Chief Family Court Judge at the city’s judicial complex, and heard a series of presentations from professionals in the field.

“That’s a great opportunity for these students no matter what they’re going into,” said Van Wyk. “They get to learn about the family court system, some of them are interested in law, some are interested in social work and some don’t know what they’re interested in. They’re getting quite a bit of experience.”

“This opportunity exposes the students to a few other options for career paths,” said Martino. “The experience at Ocean Tides is an attempt to allow students to see a program designed to offer care and treatment as an alternative to incarceration at the training school, perhaps a look at juvenile justice work that they were not aware of or did not understand. In many cases we were able to make strong links to concepts and theories studied in class and how we apply them.”

Also as part of the program, URI students shadowed Ocean Tides School attendees, a teacher at the school and social workers making house visits to at-risk youth as part of Tides Family Service’s program in Providence and Pawtucket. When not doing the more hands-on coursework, participants in the URI program are attending additional presentations on the philosophy and theory that underline both Ocean Tides School and Tides Family Services. URI students are also examining the two programs on an online, URI-based forum, where they cite research-based material they are familiar with and how it applies to their experiences in the course. The participants, finally, are logging personal journal entries about their time in the programs in an effort to preserve their thoughts for future research.

The college students are not the only ones benefiting from the collaboration and interaction, either.

“Whenever we can show young men in our program examples of other folks, perhaps just a bit older than themselves, doing the kinds of things like going to college, considering a career, talking about being in college or learning things to become what they want to be (even if you do not go to college), we have strengthened our care for our young men, and given them real life examples of other slightly older young people setting goals; having a vision for their career/themselves, staying focused and doing the work needed,” said Martino. “If the students have not had that kind of peer mentoring, or do not see other young people working on the dream for themselves, staff can talk about it with them, but it remains unreal, until they have experiences like this. The URI students shadowed OT students for part of a day to allow them to talk and listen to each other, create hope and opportunity, and share stories and dreams while attending and moving between classes in our high school. Having students with our young men gives them something staff can talk about, but only peer mentors can make real.”

At the course’s conclusion, participants will present on their experiences to the group and complete a research-based assignment in which they analyze the programs at Ocean Tides and Tides Family Services in a career-focused context. Students will pick one of the jobs/careers they were exposed to during the course and pursue it as if they would apply for a position within that field. The student presentation on the experience is open to the public and will be held March at URI.