Behavioral specialists enhance student experiences

Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy has two youth advocates at the school along Division Avenue, south of Wealthy Street.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The stress students often feel while juggling school, their home lives and extracurricular activities can lead to bad behavior and distractions from learning.

Grand Rapids Public Schools has a program that works to ease a lot of that stress for students, parents and teachers.

Several schools within the district have youth advocates on the staff as part of a behavioral support program. Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy has two youth advocates at the school along Division Avenue, south of Wealthy Street.

“They have a core group of students that they work with that may have challenges in different areas, like attendance, behavior, academics or just need that extra cheerleader going the extra mile,” said Kenyatta Hill, the principal at Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy.

Students are encouraged to share any concerns they may have with the youth advocates. Unlike a teacher, these employees are not focused on teaching core subjects and often discuss heavy topics one-on-one.

“We have students who deal with homelessness. That’s hard for a parent to even come up to address,” Maria Hampton said.

Hampton, who has an extensive background in psychology and human behavior, has been a youth advocate at the school for eight years. She told 24 Hour News 8 that some of her simplest actions go the longest way.

“Sometimes it’s just that moment of conversation that is needed that will help them to make it through the day,” Hampton explained. “Maybe they don’t get someone asking about them because they’re the adult in the family.”

When they are with an advocate, Hampton says students are encouraged to set goals and take part in group activities, which sharpen skills like critical thinking.

School officials said that the program is driving student, parent and teacher success. Grand Rapids University Preparatory School, which offers sixth through 12th grades, continues to exceed its goal to have 90 percent of students graduate and pursue post-secondary education.

Hampton said that is the most fulfilling part of her job.