Sixth-grader Madison Boston has built self-esteem with the Barbs on the Run club.
The group meets twice a week at Clinton Rosette Middle School, where the 15 or so sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade girls pair training for a 5K run with discussing topics such as friendship, relationships and gender stereotypes in a confidential setting.
“It gave me courage,” Boston said. “I used to hate running, but once I got used to it, I started running with my mom, and it gave me the courage to join the track team.”
Concepts such as self-esteem and caring can be rather nebulous, but DeKalb and Sycamore leaders know they are important for youth to grow into successful adults. They tracked these and dozens of other important qualities – which they call developmental assets – through an anonymous, 150-question, multiple choice survey that shows these assets have increased among area teenagers in the past six years.
The survey was part of the Keep Encouraging Youth to Succeed (KEYS) Initiative, which was started in 2006 by the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce Leadership Academy. Students in the latest survey had an average of 19.5 assets. Students who took the survey in 2007 had an average of 18.
Increasing the number of assets came from a concerted effort from members of the KEYS steering committee, which is composed of leaders from the education, government, nonprofit and business sectors who try to build assets through education, practice and promotion.
Mary Hess, an asset specialist with the Ben Gordon Center and KEYS Initiative as well as a District 428 School Board member, said from the time of the last survey to the most recent one, members of the KEYS Initiative held community education programs encouraging people to become asset builders.
“I think it helped people understand everyone can take a role in developing youth,” Hess said. “It’s as simple as smiling, involving them in a decision and remembering youth are people, too.”
What the 1.5 asset growth means in terms of student success isn’t clear, said Justin Roskopf, a senior survey specialist with the Search Institute, a Minnesota-based research company that provided the developmental asset survey.
“You’re comparing apples and oranges,” he said, citing the turnover in the student sample from 2007 to 2013. “What it does suggest is there have been community initiatives to build assets. There has been progress made, but it’s hard to attribute it to any one thing.”
DeKalb and Sycamore students grew in 23 assets, stayed the same in eight and saw a decrease in nine. Growth came mostly from the 20 external assets, such as parent involvement and high expectations. Decreases were concentrated in the 20 internal assets such as personal power.
Girls tend to have more assets than boys, Roskopf said, with the exception of self-esteem, where boys tend to have more.
DeKalb and Sycamore students followed this national trend. While 56 percent of boys said they have self-esteem, only 37 percent of girls answered the same. Results for students who felt they had safety fell along the same lines, with 55 percent of boys responding they felt safe compared with 38 percent of girls.
The most common asset, belonging to 73 percent of DeKalb and Sycamore youth, was integrity, an asset that measures if students act on their convictions and stand up for their beliefs. On the other hand, only 20 percent of students surveyed spend three or more hours a week in lessons or practicing music, theater and other arts, known as the creative activities asset.
Ideally, all youth should have between 31 and 40 assets, according to the organization.
DeKalb County is one of 600 communities in the U.S. and Canada to asses their youth, according to the Search Institute. The national aggregate based on 2010 data is 20 assets.
Several schools and nonprofits have incorporated asset-building into their programs since 2007.
“When young people have these assets, they are more likely to engage in positive activities,” Hess said. “I think our community is really embracing youth and showing them they’re valuable.”