Youth Isolation and Interpersonal Skills

Youth Isolation and Interpersonal Skills


Students in local schools do not feel safe at school. Every day, students face various threats to their safety, such as campus and relationship violence, bullying, drug abuse, gang affiliation, on top of home and financial problems. Students have a lot on their plate, and yet cannot even feel safe turning to teachers, due to incidents of sexual predation and inappropriate relationships. Many students feel stressed, overwhelmed, and struggle to cope with what is going on around them. In turn, they are more likely to fall behind in class, suffer from mental health issues and low self esteem, struggle with maintaining healthy relationships, etc. due to the lack of feelings of security. Students do not possess the tools to navigate everything they face daily, and in turn do not continue their education, turn to substance abuse, and fall victim to unhealthy relationships and unsafe situations.

Team Information
The Good Human Initiative (GHI)

About the Problem

Problem Category


How did you identify this problem?

We as a group identified the issues among students by discussing with students at different grade levels about what they face/d at school as well as analyzing our own experience . We identified common concerns among these students and researched potential root causes. Finally, we decided that many issues can and should be addressed internally within the schools via adjustments in the curriculum and additional support to aid existing counseling and conflict resolution skill building.

Problem Details

Who are those affected by this problem?

The primary and most immediate population affected by this problem are students K-12. AT school, they are at the mercy of their caregivers, their teachers, and their peers. They have limited control over their environment and are given even fewer tools to make use of it. As our children grow up in these environments, so do the lasting consequences. Students grow up and out of mandatory schooling (assuming they finish school) they are forced to cope with the mental, emotional, and interpersonal issues rooted in the insecurity and lack of safety they felt at school.

How often does this problem occur?

The problem occurs and continues to fester within the community. While not every individual student experiences great adversity at school, we ultimately live in an underserved community. Many students may not be personally affected, but they know someone who experienced bullying, who constantly fought and acted out due to feeling unsafe, whose significant other was emotionally or physically violent to them. It occurs all around them, and while it might not affect every student in every school equally often, it is unfortunately very common.

How long has the problem been going on?

Many of these problems have been around for as long as public schooling has been popular, and are bound to occur in some capacity at any school in the country. However, these particular issues have been occurring for at least the past 15-20 years in Modesto City Schools, and have only become more difficult to handle with the advent of social media.

Is the problem disrupting the community? How?

It absolutely is. Let’s put it this way: what begins as a small interpersonal issue in grade school, can cause real lasting consequences as an adult. When people are faced with situations, they need to be given and taught the emotional tools to deal with it, otherwise, they are more likely to suffer for it. For example low self-esteem in adolescence can be the root of someone's abusive relationship later. The consequences of these "root issues" are felt throughout our community with the growing homelessness, drug abuse, violence, and mental health crisis.

Is the issue perceived as a problem by the community at large?

We believe people see the consequences as an issue, but are not as inclined to acknowledge the root of the issue. Many people feel powerless to do things for the students in the community. They would rather write it off as ‘knucklehead kid’ things or teenage melodrama, then complain about rates of crime, suicide, violence, etc. The community sees the issue, whether or not they’re willing to tackle and acknowledge it in a meaningful A(and fiscal) way is an entirely different issue.

Is the problem limited to certain geographic areas?

No, these problems are present in schools across the nation, especially other similarly underserved areas. However, the Central Valley has been identified as a unique hotspot for drug abuse, violence, and crime.

Who are the Stakeholders, those wanting this problem to be fixed?

The stakeholders are local schools and educators, who struggle with funding and caring for the wellbeing of the student body, though they would benefit the greatest from this intervention. The students themselves, who not only want to but have a right to feel safe, secure, and supported at school. Not only that, but local officials and institutions handling issues of mental health, drug abuse, homelessness, and domestic violence/violent crime.

Addressing the Problem

Are you aware of any solutions, approaches, or efforts to tackle this problem?

Our major solution would be to establish programs and additions to the curriculum in order to encourage prosocial behavior and teach conflict resolution, communication, and interpersonal skills. This would be done age appropriately, beginning with simple things such as personal boundaries (i.e. don’t touch people with consent) and at more intermediate levels, build upon previous skills, such as establishing boundaries and healthy relationships, sexual consent, etc. Teachers, educators, and counselors, could be provided incentives for receiving training on how to teach effective interpersonal skills as well as be provided adequate tools for classroom management, de-escalation, and conflict resolution. There would be increased access to mental health services as well as resources available for food-insecure students, as well as students coming from unsafe situations.

What are the obstacles you are aware of to address the problem?

Our schools already struggle to fund and staff existing courses, and counselors are swamped with large caseloads. Many teachers may not feel equipped, capable, or necessary to teach the skills, as well as struggle to create safe emotional environments while being mandatory reporters. Students may not be responsive towards the program. Members of the community will push back against the idea of teaching these interpersonal skills because people may see this as an unnecessary waste of time or resources, as well as an infringement of a parent’s right to teach their kids. That schools ‘have no place’ in teaching kids more than academic skills, so to speak.

What are the success criteria that could be defined to address this problem?

The success criteria that could potentially be used to address this problem are entry and exit surveys from both staff and students on various topics. However, if we want metrics, increases or decreases in incidents of violence (both threats and acts) on school campuses, graduation rates, mandatory reported incidents, as well as rates of incarceration and homelessness among local 12-25 year olds.