Empowering students to navigate challenges is central to Oli’s mission.
As they grow into adulthood, teenagers will inevitably confront challenges: friendships in turmoil, family conflicts, academic setbacks, and many others. Though they may be disruptive or unsettling, these challenges are important; they teach young people to build resilience and equip them to handle problems down the road.
At Oliverian, we don’t shield our students from reality — we view bumps in the road as opportunities for students to develop and strengthen their problem solving abilities. That’s why we empower students to make healthy choices for themselves, rather than policing their actions or attempting to control their behavior. When young people learn to navigate a variety of challenges within the context of support and self-discovery, they’re better able to handle similar problems that may arise off-campus and in their post-Oli lives.
Oliverian counselor Julie Tracy-Prieboy describes our process for overcoming challenges using the example of a student who makes unhealthy food choices when shopping at the grocery store. In a more restrictive setting, a chaperone might prohibit that student from purchasing candy or chips, or an advisor might restrict access to funds altogether. While this approach may be effective in the short-term, it doesn’t necessarily contribute to long-term behavioral change.
When possible, we take a preemptive approach, working with students to develop the tools they need to handle such situations on their own. In the case of our student at the grocery store, we might hold one-on-one sessions with advisors and counselors to frame the problem and develop strategies that facilitate better choices. Part of that is asking the student about his or her goals: “How do you want to use your spending money?” “What are you looking to achieve with your food purchases?”
Once we have the answers to those questions, we can help the student problem-solve. If the student wants to save money for purchases other than food, we might teach him or her about basic budgeting and remind them of the natural consequences of overspending. If the student’s goal is to feel full, then we might initiate a conversation about foods that will best accomplish that goal. The next time this student goes shopping, they are better equipped to make choices that will fulfill their stated goals, rather than being restricted for reasons that aren’t clear to them.
At the end of the day, the choices our students make are up to the students themselves. They are in control of — and also take responsibility for — their actions. We’re there to help them make informed decisions and learn from the consequences of past decisions. By empowering students to choose for themselves, Oliverian equips our students with the critical thinking and problem solving skills they need to make healthy decisions — on campus and off.