Roseville school district offers new program to aid students

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published November 29, 2019

 Roseville High School junior Jalen Turnage was among the students to work with Positive You mentor Greg Jones.

Roseville High School junior Jalen Turnage was among the students to work with Positive You mentor Greg Jones.

Photo provided by Joe Genest

ROSEVILLE — Roseville Community Schools is helping shape its students’ futures in a new way thanks to the Positive You program.

Positive You was created as a way to better connect with students and impart positive lessons that educators have been trying to provide to students for years.

“Positive You was a response to the overwhelming need for mental health and youth development programming throughout southeast Michigan and the nation,” said Positive You co-founder and Executive Director Kenny Spear. “The mental health crisis has tripled over the last 30 years, so I felt a calling to try and deliver something in that area.”

Spear had been involved in prevention programs and youth development for six years before helping to create Positive You. Through his experiences, he helped develop a pilot program that he began pitching to local school districts.

“Positive You began in 2016 as a pilot program at Powell Middle School in Romeo,” Spear said. “Along with the principal there, we wanted to expand on some student assemblies they were having. It was showing that one or two assemblies wasn’t enough, so we worked on finding ways to expand content. We created programming that could grow.”

Jeff Verkeyn leads the Building Relationships for the Improvement of Community and Kids program in Roseville Community Schools. He saw that Positive You was doing something different for students and thought that it could be a good fit in the district.

“It helps students set goals. They offer advice and reflection on how to achieve those goals,” he explained. “They started coming once a month; now they are coming twice a month. Each kid is given a journal. We play a video each meeting, and that introduces what the message is for that week. They then have an activity that reflects on that message. Then at the next meeting, they discuss how they applied those lessons. … Kenny and the others also walk around at lunches and just talk with the students.”

Spear thinks the biggest difference between Positive You and programs with similar goals is that Positive You is positive and proactive, not prohibitive.

“I think one of the biggest differentiators we have is that it isn’t about saying ‘no’ to bad decisions, but instead, giving them something to say ‘yes’ to,” Spear explained. “Studies show that students that have some sort of passion or goals are much less likely to engage in drug abuse, alcohol abuse and self-harm. We want to remind them that they have a unique purpose that they can use to contribute to the world.”

Spear was brought in to give students and staff a taste of what Positive You could provide. Verkeyn and the other BRICK leaders thought it could do a lot of good for students.

“They started coming in October,” Verkeyn said. “The first monthly focus was goal setting. November is gratitude, December is service, January is a clean slate, February is kindness, March is perspective, April is purpose, May is perseverance and June is choices. … I think we are off to a good start. You never know how kids will buy into a program, but the curriculum has been strong and a lot of kids have really responded to the program. Our plan is to hopefully have them around next year, and hopefully grow their team to better support the kids and expand the topics they talk about with the kids.”

The program has grown, and Roseville administrators are working to expand it to encompass all of their high school and middle school students.

“So far, it’s been a great experience working in both the high school and middle schools in Roseville,” said Spear. “We usually start in one school in a district and expand from there — both in that school and to other schools in that district.”

Verkeyn and his fellow educators believe Positive You is having a genuine impact on the lives of young people in the community.

“We have a lot of great people coming here to make these presentations and work with the kids. I think that’s the key. They have an unbelievable ability to connect with the kids,” said Verkeyn. “Positive You offers an outside person, who isn’t a teacher, to tell them that they are capable of doing amazing things. They phrase things in positive ways. It’s not, ‘Don’t do drugs.’ It’s, ‘Do something beneficial for you that you love.’”