Through his motto, "pure positive, no negative," Franco Rosado empowers young people in the Directions for Youth Program at I.S. 229 in the South Bronx. Six years ago, he developed the Peer Advisor Leadership School (PALS), a program emphasizing behavior modification that brings together ten high school students who Rosado trains and employs as youth mentors to work with twenty troubled 5th and 6th graders, as an alternative to suspension. Through innovative games, positive reinforcement, and a sense of caring and commitment, Rosado and his team of teenage peer mentors transform the 5th and 6th graders into successful students.
Games play a major role in Rosado's mission and reinforce critical concepts of how to succeed in school, instilling life skills and encouragement. The Silence Game, for example, challenges young people to stay silent for as long as possible, thereby showing them how much work it takes to pay attention. The Face Off Game has children turn and face each other as quickly as possible, thereby teaching them to face their fears. "To live your dreams, you've got to face your fears," said Rosado, who compares his own personal experience of leaving the Bronx to attend U.C.L.A, from where he received his B.A. "I teach them how to do it scared."
Positive reinforcement takes the shape of field trip incentives and public recognition of achievements. In addition, Rosado created the "Wall of Heroes" in his office, on which he displays Student of the Week certificates he awards to young people along with pictures of superheroes. "All of my kids want to be on the Wall of Heroes," says Rosado.
As for the success of PALS, Rosado says, "When the principal comes in, she can't believe they're the same kids." He has children that are now on the honor roll, and kids who were failing every class who are now passing every class. "I empower them to think," said Rosado. "When you empower a child, a beautiful thing happens. They believe in themselves."