Building Young Men

Building Young Men is the Panthers on the Prowl secondary schools mentoring and leadership project for high school students in the wider Penrith area. This ground-breaking project targets students in Year 10 who may be at risk of disengaging from high school or who have leadership potential that requires further development. These students, at the crossroads of teenage development, require intensive support in order to further develop their self-confidence, resilience and coping strategies. In this context, Building young Men provides explicit and interactive learning opportunities where boys can engage in a positive, safe and caring environment with experienced and reliable male role models in order to enhance psychological wellbeing and mitigate the impacts of potential harmful risk factors that typify this stage of male adolescent development.

Contemporary research on adolescent risk and harm suggests that there are three consistent factors that contribute to a teenager’s ability to overcome adversity and ‘beat the odds’; Firstly, a strong relationship with reliable and trusted adults who have high expectations, secondly, a strong sense of self-worth fostered and modelled through these adult relationships, and finally, opportunities for meaningful social participation. These protective factors combined, contribute to a critical sense of connectedness and confidence which allows them to build on competencies and contribute positively to their families and communities. Teenagers provided with these protective supports enjoy improved mental health, enhanced academic achievement and are at a significantly lower risk of engaging in harmful and risky behaviours.

In response to these issues and to contribute effectively in the prevention of harm and risk for secondary students, Panthers on the Prowl developed the Building Young Men (BYM) mentoring project that commenced its pilot operations in 2016. BYM provides a cohesive research-based program of activities where young men are provided with social, emotional, and psychological learning opportunities in a group environment rich with narrative and ritual that leads to authentic personal transformation and growth. The program offers students the chance to develop practical skills and psycho-social understanding with the support and guidance of trained mentors that serve as protective factors in the face of potential developmental risk and harm factors that students often face in this stage of adolescence.

In its practical implementation, the BYM project operates over a 20 week schedule that is embedded in a ‘rites of passage’ model. Groups typically comprise of 8-12 mentors and 10-12 students who meet for weekly sessions that are generally conducted throughout school terms two and three and are normally two hours in duration. Each weekly session has a theme and associated learning objectives aimed at progressively developing learning around positive psychology and positive masculinity. Meetings give participants a chance to learn and engage with topics such as relationships, responsibility, sexuality, mental health and facing challenges. Each meeting is a structured forum where boys can be heard and encouraged and to consider taking responsibility for their actions and their future. In addition to the weekly sessions there is a ‘Challenge Weekend’ in the middle of the project schedule, as well as a final ‘Rites of Passage’ camp weekend which are critical elements to the project model. Students who go to fully complete the project are accepted into the BYM Alumni and are encouraged to stay involved and active within the BYM community.

BYM groups are directed by an experienced and trained lead facilitator with professional experience in working with at-risk children and youth, who manage and facilitate the weekly sessions. All participating mentors are required to undertake specialised training and accreditation as mentors through TAFE NSW, as well as child protection training and training in working with ‘at-risk youth’. All Mentors have undertaken a NSW Working with Children Check and are not permitted to engage in any activity without proof of a valid clearance.

Schools are able to express their interest in Building Young Men by making contact with the BYM coordinator. The BYM Project Development Team meets at the end of Term 4 each year to identify and prioritises school cohorts with most need in term of students at risk of becoming disengaged from school and are at most risk of harm. The team considers information provided by their school executive and learning support teams that identifies students as appropriate for tier 2 targeted intervention.

The Panthers on the Prowl – Building Young Men project is coordinated and administered by our qualified School Counsellor, Community Development Worker and Teacher, Mr Brogan Mulhall. For more information feel free to contact Brogan on (02) 4725 6434 or the General Manager of Panthers on the Prowl, Brad Waugh (02) 4725 6420.