Spring-based nonprofit The ARK Group aims to keep children from abusing drugs, alcohol or joining gangs by working with community stakeholders to improve children’s self-esteem.
“If you don’t feel good about yourself, you’re likely to cave into negative peer pressure in hopes of being accepted,” said Glenn Wilkerson, the program’s president and founder.
Wilkerson, who served as pastor of Cypress Creek Christian Church for 35 years, founded ARK in 1994 after he noticed that many of the teenagers he counseled had issues with self-esteem. He created ARK to help foster a higher level of self-esteem in children.
ARK provides a peer-to-peer group-learning environment where caretakers learn techniques that allow them to administer discipline and foster a caring environment, Wilkerson said.
The ARK Group features several programs that are designed for teachers, parents and prisons. Each of these programs function the same, operating as a one-hour bimonthly meeting that features small, peer-led groups for at least 11 sessions.
For instance, in ARK for teachers, 15-person groups discuss specific problems and concerns. After one teacher discusses an issue, the other 14 educators provide their perspective.
Following each suggestion, the inquirer must listen and only thank the speaker, eschewing natural defensive responses, such as “I have tried that already,” Wilkerson said.
ARK-trained facilitators—who are selected by the principal and receive eight hours of training—moderate the groups.
The nonprofit is used in various scopes by five school districts, including Spring ISD, Cy-Fair ISD and Dallas ISD. ARK techniques are also used at all secondary schools in Aldine ISD, Wilkerson said.
“It’s a small group process in a safe, confidential venue so that they can mentor, problem-solve and team build and work on how to deal with kids in a manner that they discipline the behavior while still affirming the worth of the child,” he said.
What separates ARK from similar programs is its length, he said. As opposed to a short seminar, the program aims to build habits through ongoing sessions.
“Most of the [other] programs require the principal to send the teachers off to a three-day seminar, and they receive instructions,” Wilkerson said. “The ARK for teachers is an ongoing program. These small groups of teachers meet a minimum of twice a month for one hour.”
Wilkerson said he helped conduct research with the University of Texas School of Public Health regarding the self-esteem of children. The results found that children with higher self-esteem are more resilient and have better ways of dealing with peer pressure to engage in risky behavior, he said.
“It dawned on me in dealing with kids that if we want to change your behavior, we’ve got to pile all of the unconditional love coupled with appropriate discipline,” Wilkerson said. “And I didn’t see anything taking place out there that was meeting that need.”