Pleasanton Weekly

Column - April 16, 2010

Dealing with stress among our youths - helping them achieve balance

by Jeb Bing

It's been more than a decade since I worked with others in city and civic organizations to develop a Youth Master Plan for Pleasanton. At the time, the key drivers of a plan that would focus on the city's growing population of youths from birth until they reached the age of 21 were Cindy McGovern, now a City Councilwoman and then on the school board, and the late school board member Juanita Haugen. For me, in the years before we launched the Pleasanton Weekly, it was a chance to meet many in elected positions, on the city and school district staffs, police lieutenants, business leaders and parents who shared my interest in developing a plan to determine what teenagers and those younger needed in Pleasanton, where often we heard that "there just isn't anything for us to do here."

This grassroots effort led to the adoption by the school board and City Council of the Youth Master Plan on June 4, 1998, which then established the Youth Master Plan Implementation Committee (YMPIC) to carry the plan forward after thanking the 30 of us who had completed our initial work. Over the course of the last 12 years, that committee has worked to implement the plan's strategies. Some of these accomplishments include the creation of the website P-town 411, the BMX park near Shadow Cliffs, and sponsoring several city grants to local non-profits that provide programs and services that support the Youth Master Plan strategies. Some objectives have not yet been realized as city funds have been directed elsewhere, including, disappointingly, the construction of a teen center to serve both that age group and a separate facility for pre-teens and those younger that is still intended to be built in the Bernal Community Park. At least the lighted baseball fields have been completed, which opened this year, adding to the YMP's call for more sports fields to serve the city's still-growing youth population.

The vision of the YMP is to nurture a safe, supportive community that is responsive to the full range of needs of all children, youths and their families. In partnership with the city's Youth Commission and youth sports, schools and other organizations, such as the Scouts and 4-H clubs, the YMPIC considers scores of requests and ideas at its monthly meetings. Just as important has been the committee's focus on maintaining and expanding a healthy and safe youth environment in Pleasanton. Studies have shown high levels of anxiety and depression among some youths, coupled with high achievement pressures in our community, fears of bullying or discrimination on or near school campuses, increases in drug and alcohol abuse among our young people, and participation in risky sexual activities. Working with local agencies to improve services that address these concerns, the YMPIC has developed mentoring and counseling programs where peers can exchange experiences and support each others' physical and mental well-being.

At a recent Youth in Government Day, 80 students from Amador Valley, Foothill, Village and Horizon high schools joined Julie Duncan and Kathleen Yurchak to "shadow" city and school district leaders and staffs of their choosing for a better understanding of how these two government agencies function. They also meet together to discuss challenges and opportunities facing Pleasanton youths. Duncan is the school district's coordinator of Career and Technical Education. Yurchak is the city's Community Services Manager. Breaking into eight discussion groups for the afternoon, the students gave their ideas for programs that can help youths achieve "balance" in their lives to deal with school conflicts, the stress of homework and academic competition, and the fear of rejection by social groups and athletic teams. Their suggestions are being reviewed and will help form new strategies now under consideration as the city and school district updates the Youth Master Plan at the start of this new decade.

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