December 19, 2022

Community Impact Partner: I AM with Christy Mensah

I AM, a social and emotional learning program, provides necessary life skills to thousands of Baton Rouge Students. Recently the organization took on the task of improving its curriculum to better connect with students and teachers. With the help of a Community Impact Grant from New Schools for Baton Rouge, I AM is one step closer to reaching its goal.  

Local organization taking on task of teaching life skills to elementary students"  

In recent years, teachers, educators, and parents alike have started to prioritize their student's social and emotional wellbeing. I AM: Empowering the Next Generation is here to bridge that gap.

Since 2015, I AM has been working to foster social and emotional learning (SEL) among Baton Rouge’s elementary students.  

“We are a social and emotional learning program,” Christy Mensah, Founder and Executive Director of I AM, said. “Our program provides a curriculum that we train our instructors in who go into the classrooms and teach our curriculum to the classes at the schools we partner with.”

So far, I AM has partnered with four local charter schools – three GEO Prep Academies and Democracy Prep. For seven years, I AM has worked with kindergarten through fifth grade students at GEO and just last year expanded to Democracy Prep.  

Through generous grants, including a Community Impact Grant from New Schools for Baton Rouge, I AM has been able to take the first steps in expanding its curriculum by grade level.  

“Getting the grant from New Schools for Baton Rouge has made it possible for us to write our curriculum so we can have a written document for each grade level,” Mensah said. “Now we can expand on things.”

A revamping of their curriculum increases I AM’s capacity to go into other schools and offer different services, as well as meet the needs of each school's students.

The curriculum is comprised of social life skills – self-confidence, self-management, self-control, self-worth; difference between making wise choices and unwise choices; the importance of using self-control when you’re in different situations; conflict resolution; how to set goals; work ethic and growth mindset; positive character traits like respect, responsibility.  

“So all the things we need as adults so communicate and have healthy relationships. That’s what we’re working with in the classroom,” Mensah said.  

The original curriculum was based on Mensah’s personal experiences as a parent and teacher with the East Baton Rouge Parish Public School System for 14 years. The curriculum has been enhanced with the ‘Framework Five’ — self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making — from Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), which encapsulated everything Mensah found on her own time, plus some.  

So far, the curriculum is a “combination of experience, feedback from teachers and educators with some influence from CASEL’S Framework Five.”

Once the curriculum is completed for each grade level, Mensah hopes to expand the organization's focus to include other important components to SEL including small groups and supporting the teachers.

“We want to work in more of a small group setting and eventually do some one-on-ones, work with the teachers, support the teachers, social and emotional support for the students. And ultimately work with the families as well, more specifically with the kids that we’ll be doing intervention with. That's our long-term goal,” Mensah said.  

In the meantime, I AM wants to grow but at a mindful rate with an emphasis on building a strong foundation and training. For example, in 2021 I AM had 1,032 students. This year, they offer classes to 1,300 students.  

So far, I AM has impacted 4,564 students since starting in August 2015. And while Mensah wants to say ‘Yes’ to every school that asks for their programs, she realizes that growing well is vital to bringing SEL to all Baton Rouge students.      

“You can’t reach them academically if you can’t reach their heart,” Mensah said.    

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