Becoming a Man (BAM) is a school-based group counseling and mentoring program for male identifying students in grades 7-12. BAM targets young men in urban schools that demonstrate risk factors associated with school dropout and justice system involvement. BAM participants engage in a series of one-hour, once-a-week sessions that help them learn, internalize, and practice social-emotional skills, make responsible decisions for their future, and become positive members of their school and community. Students participate in up to 27 curriculum-based group sessions per year (each group averages 10-12 students) that are held during the school day and led by a full-time, trained BAM Counselor. The BAM Curriculum is centered on six core values that include: Integrity, Accountability, Self-Determination, Positive Anger Expression, Respect for Womanhood, and Visionary Goal Setting. Curriculum activities are grounded in principles of clinical practice (i.e. cognitive behavioral therapy), men’s rites of passage work, and incorporate engaging activities to help students see common behaviors and attitudes in new ways. The sessions include in-depth check-ins, role playing, stories, a trust walk, and other activities designed to evoke discussion and new ways of thinking.
Two major studies in Chicago secondary schools evaluated Becoming a Man. In the first (Heller, Pollack, Ander, & Ludwig, 2013), 2740 at-risk students in grades 7-10 in 18 high-poverty schools were randomly assigned to be offered participation, or to serve as a control group. 72% of students were African-American, and 28% Hispanic. About half of the students offered the program did not participate, but all who were randomly assigned were included in analyses, in an intent-to-treat design. There were small but statistically significant effects on measures of academic engagement (ES=+0.06), qualifying BAM for an ESSA “Strong” rating for the academic category. There were also small but significant reductions in all arrest counts (ES+0.08), which qualified BAM for an ESSA “Strong” rating in the Problem Behavior category. The study reported positive but non-significant effects on academic performance and social skills. In a second study by Heller et al. (2017), also in Chicago in grades 9-10, there were significant effects on academic engagement (ES=+0.07), as well as reductions in arrests rates (ES=+0.08).
Full-time, school-based BAM Counselors are needed to lead weekly group sessions. BAM Counselors are bachelor’s and master’s level youth development specialists that have strong youth-engagement experience. Each BAM Counselor serves 55 students and receives training and professional coaching from an experienced BAM Curriculum Specialist.
BAM Counselors receive over 300 hours of training in the BAM curriculum along with ongoing coaching to support the development of competencies in clinical skills, group work, youth engagement, and working within the school environment. Additional training in Men’s Work/Rites of Passage is also required.