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Positive Deviance Voices (PDV)

Sector: Education

Date Range: September 2012 to present

Location(s): Morrisania, South Bronx, New York

Organization: Positive Deviance Initiative, NYC Mayor's Fund, Children's Aid Society (CAS)

Type: Ongoing Program

In 2012, members of a NYC book club, including Linda Gibbs, the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services in New York City, read The Power of Positive Deviance and contacted PDI to see how the approach might be used to address two intractable problems in New York City. After initial discussions, two 2 year demonstration projects were developed, one of which focused on the issue of social isolation of older adults in NYC public housing, and a second demonstration project focused on the educational outcomes of young adolescent males of color.

Positive Deviance Voice (PDV) is a pilot project located in the neighborhood of Morrisania in the Bronx, focusing on school success among Black and Latino males. The majority of Black and Latino male students living in the Bronx do not succeed in school. New York City’s high school graduation rates for Black males are among the lowest in the nation – with the 2010 Schott 50 State report ranking the city second from the bottom, with a 28% cohort graduation rate for Black males compared to a 50% rate for White males. According to a 2009 NYU Steinhardt report, only 44 percent of both Black and Latino males from the 2005 cohort graduated after six years of high school in New York City. The implications of dropping out for Black and Latino males include greatly increased rates of both unemployment and incarceration, consequences that affect not only the individual, but society as a whole.

The community has defined the desired outcome as having most Black and Latino male students being successful in school in the coming years. The implementing partners are Children’s Aid Society (CAS), The Positive Deviance Initiative (PDI), and the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. Funding for the two year project has been provided by the Mayor’s Fund and is part of the larger Young Men’s Initiative.

The initial phase of the pilot project, from June 2012 – May 2013 covered orientation meetings, preparation meetings, and a community kick-off meeting held on January 9, 2013 that was followed by five months of weekly two hour meetings. These weekly meetings took a group of community volunteers through the first three steps of the positive deviance process. The group consisted of a variety of stakeholders. The majority of students, one administrator and one teacher were from Middle School P.S.190. Additional stakeholders included students from five other schools, parents and community members. The culmination of the first phase was a second community meeting held on May 22, 2013, where the core group of community volunteers presented the positive deviant behaviors and strategies that they discovered to the larger community.

The project was designed to learn about uncommon behaviors that enabled a few Latino and Black males in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades from Middle School P.S.190 to be on the Honor Roll. Out of a total number of about 250 students at P.S.190, only eight Black and Latino males in these grades were on the Honor Roll – achieving either gold, silver or bronze status. 

Here’s a quick look at what the group has done to date:

Created a problem statement: The majority of black and Latino male students living in the Bronx do not succeed in school. The desired outcome is that most black and Latino male students will be successful in school in the coming years.

Developed a conceptual framework and related questionnaire: School success is impacted by: teen dating, respect in and out of school, family life, time management and social networking, after-school activities and violence.

Identified stakeholders for group interviews: teachers, parents, siblings, friends, school guards, janitors, coaches, pastors, tutors, counselors, neighbors, principals, mentors, shop owners, police and community-based organization members. These stakeholders each impact the success of students and helped identify positive deviant behaviors in interviews.

Determined selection criteria for positive deviants: an 80% average in all subjects and meets one or more criteria such as being subject to gang violence or tough police tactics, or living in a home with a single working parent or where English isn't the primary language.

Conducted individual interviews with positive deviants and their families to see how their behaviors differ from the normative ones. In late May, the group presented results from those interviews and engaged in a community dialogue about the findings from this research. The findings include actions students can take on their own—such as sitting near the front of class and being considerate to all students, even those you might not like—and actions families can take together—eating meals, reviewing homework and even activities like grocery shopping and running errands as a group on weekends.

During the weeks of July 15th and July 22nd 2013, ten rising 8th graders and rising 9th graders from I.S. 190 met as part of an internship to orient students to the Positive Deviance process and begin to plan implementation of the Positive Deviant behaviors at IS 190. The key components of the internship were; provide alumni members a chance to orient students to positive deviance, plan an approach to share PDV behaviors with IS 190 and re-think the behaviors in the existing PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention System). Students also practiced skills such as; active listening, facilitation and public speaking.

A replication phase will begin in the fall of 2013, and the group will launch a kick-off event for multiple replication projects. Stay tuned for updates on this exciting project. 

Visit PDV blog (run by students): Positive Deviance Voices Blog
Read More: Positive Deviance Project Finds Key to School Success



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