Below is a list of frequently asked questions. Click each one for more information.
This video features past Stepping Stones participants talking about the challenges faced by youth:
This video explains the cultural significance of a Coming of Age mentoring program for youth:
This video outlines some of the core issues that youth are facing as they enter into adolescence:
This video explains the role that mentoring and, in particular, a Stepping Stones group plays in the development of youth:
Groups are organized by grade, gender, and geography. Groups meet six times per quarter, which averages out to two meetings per month. Five of the meetings are two hours long, and the sixth is a daylong retreat (6 hours). The summer quarter has fewer meetings and a minimum two-night wilderness trip. Parents meet with leaders once every quarter for two hours. Leaders of groups meet with youth and/or parents for 18 hours of time per quarter. Leaders also have an additional 12 hours of peer consultation, mentoring, and preparation and reporting time.
Fall: September, October, November
Winter: December, January, February
Spring: March, April, May
Summer: June, July, AugustThe calendar is made by the leaders who work cooperatively with all the families to find dates that everyone can attend. Calendars are generally organized at least 3 months in advance. Summer trips are generally scheduled in January or the very end of summer for the following year. We set the dates for this important trip many months in advance and ask that this trip be held as a high priority for the family. It is very important to the success of the group process that all group members be at meetings, especially in the first 6 months and last 6 months of the two year cycle. These are the formative times relative to group bonding and trust, and the culmination of the group relative to the marking ceremony. SSP asks that the parents hold this commitment to participate fully for the whole program.
If a family in the group has an appropriate space in their home that is relatively private and separate from the family living space (i.e. a recreation room or converted garage) then the group can meet in a family space. Some groups rotate meeting space as appropriate. If these options are not available, SSP will find a rental space in a local community center, church or other community space. For this reason the exact town the groups meet in depend on who is in the group and what the group consensus is relative to meeting space. Meeting space is one of the reasons that groups are formed by geographical region.
The day-long meetings usually take place outdoors in parks or wilderness areas nearby. The summer trips are in parks or wilderness areas throughout Northern California such as Point Reyes National Seashore, Santa Cruz Mountains, Big Basin, Mt Shasta or Mt. Lassen areas.
6th grade groups are expected to start in the early Spring of 6th grade (Feb.-Mar.) and 7th grade groups the early Fall of 7th grade (Sept.-Oct.). Stepping Stones will not start groups when youth have reached the spring of 7th grade or the 8th grade. Groups will start within the time frames above when:
- there are a minimum of 7 families for the group
- leaders have been assigned to the group
- parents have met the leaders
- parents have made a commitment to the group after meeting the leadersThe program is designed to meet for two to three years starting in 6th or 7th grade, ending in the marking ceremony in the fall of 9th grade. More than a few groups have continued after the fall of the 9th grade, into high school. These groups are dependent on the leaders being able to continue and the desire of the group.
This video details the two to three-year structure of a typical Stepping Stones group:
While groups are focused on youth in grades 6-8, Stepping Stones Project creates an environment for the parents as well, through quarterly meetings. Additionally, each group is assigned an elder to provide an additional source of support to the leaders and the group.
This video provides a perspective on the nature and value of parent meetings associated with SSP groups:
We see a broad spectrum of personalities among the youth in our program. Groups are generally diverse with kids of varying personality types and interests, artists to athletes, introverts to extroverts, groups comprised of friends, or those who don’t know each other. There is no “personality type” that SSP is specifically addressing.SSP recognizes that there are many youth who have specific needs that we are unable to address in our program. SSP leaders are not trained for the specific issues that are part of a formal social skills learning environment. If there are questions as to whether SSP may be appropriate for your child, please email or contact us to discuss your child’s specific needs.
Similar to a DNA strand, which houses the numerous possible expressions of genes giving rise to an individual character, the SSP curriculum, leaders, and youth contain all the possibilities and potential for a group. The combination of leaders’ unique talents and interests (eg music, art), the individual youth, group activities, and the unique history that each group develops, end up creating the unique individual and group experience. Each group will have its own character, and yet it is all activated and held together by the general developmental arc of the curriculum. As such, co-leaders use the curriculum as a support structure to build a unique expression of the SSP group experience.
The quarterly themes are suggested introduction points for the leaders. It is not to suggest these themes will only be discussed in a designated quarter. The themes and content areas become part of the group imagination and story. Various themes will be introduced and will be raised again throughout the program. These discussions are then part of the history of the group and can be referenced and further developed later in the life of the group. If themes arise prior to the intended quarter, this can be acknowledged and worked with as necessary. The leaders will meet the group where they are at.
The thematic titles of the curriculum begin with simple yet important issues and progress toward greater depth and meaning throughout the program. The basic ideas of having fun and getting real form the foundational bond and authenticity needed and the container for deeper themes and matured sensibilities to be explored over time.
The Layout of the Quarters:
- Q 1 Having Fun & Getting Real
- Q2 Stories: Friendship, Group Spirit, & Adventure
- Q3 Facing Challenges I
- Q4 Connecting to Our Natural World
- Q5 Images of Maturity: Seeding Adult Orientation
- Q6 Facing Challenges II
- Q7 Walking in the Two Worlds: The Sacred and the Profane
- Q8 Wilderness Threshold
- Q9 Returning Anew; Marking
If you are interested in more detail about the curriculum, please email us and let us know what you would like to know or better understand. Each of the above quarter themes is detailed for our leaders in their resource materials.
There are four primary ways that youth, with mentorship from the leaders, create space.
- Activities – Each group will have a main activity for each meeting. These can be games, projects, art, music, outdoors activities, etc. Activities will be gender appropriate. Activities are designed to match developmental goals of the curriculum. It is important in the early phases of groups that groups are having fun and bonding, so activities will be oriented around teamwork, trust, and creativity as a group. During the quarterly daylong meetings, activities will be more aligned with outdoor activities and challenges. Within this activity context, groups will also create experiences through forms of ritual, council, and focus exercises.
The video on the right provides some examples of group activities.
- Ritual – Each group will develop their own ritual for “calling in space”. This may be through a few minutes of silence, reading of a poem, lighting a candle, placing an object they have empowered into the center of their circle, or any number of ways that they co-create with the leaders. The key element is that this will be unique to them and over time, it will represent an opening of time that is safe and a place of trust and exploration,
- Council – once “holding council” is established, mentors will develop ways for the group to safely discuss what is on their minds. We know that youth at this age have an active mental /emotional world, one that is expanding and questioning, and most importantly, wondering about their place and role in the family, their peer group(s), and their community. Council becomes the one place that they can question openly, express concerns, let out the emotional stress, and do so without fear of what others are going to say or do if they are just themselves.
- Mindfulness practice – another way of learning to create space is some form of mindfulness practice. This may being as a one minute “slowing down” or quieting of thoughts that helps them orient and be more present for the council discussions that are to occur. Over the course of several years, this practice can be seen by youth as a tool that grounds them within themselves and allows them to focus and be more effective in their interactions with others, or doing homework for that matter.
Discussions in the group during “council” may turn to drugs, sex, or whatever is arising in the group at that time as a common focus. We can assure parents that by 7th and 8th grades, kids are engaging in these discussions. They may be hearing things about other kids at school, or thinking about the topics. The primary element for Stepping Stones is that we are able to guide and mentor these conversations, helping youth shape the inquiry of the discussion, and help them see possible consequences that may or may not be self-evident, as well as talk about things they normally may want to keep secret. Additionally, and probably most important, is to help youth explore the social pressures to “go along” with the peer group in social situations, and what it means to be clear about what it takes to say “no” as the youth navigates these challenges.
We view the importance of ritual as a method for assisting groups in identifying their own doorway into a safe space and mode of being with each other, and creating a pattern of expectations that they can trust and feel comfortable with each meeting. Additionally, leaders incorporate techniques of mindfulness and social emotional practices into the group experience as a way to slow youth down and help them get in touch with their authentic selves and feelings. This provides groups with more of an opportunity to communicate and explore with each other in ways they may not be able to without this tool to help them focus. SSP’s program should support and align with any spiritual perspective… or none. It is geared toward human development appropriate to this age and stage. It is not oriented toward a particular spiritual path.
In this video, individuals address the question of whether Stepping Stones is affiliated with a particular religious or spiritual view:
This video explains how group Leaders deal with and hold confidentiality in groups:
At this age, the primary developmental task of youth is moving outward, away from the parent and away from the nuclear family as the primary source of reflection of “Who am I”, toward looking to the outer world, peers, and greater society for an understanding of who they are, what is their place in the world, and what is their place in a peer social group.
As a result of this developmental transition, the primary focus and drive for youth is now the social peer group. At the same time, parents are often finding it difficult to let go of old patterns and see and interact with their child in a new way. Parents often, unconsciously, try to maintain the child’s identity and role, in essence co-creating what can be a difficult and conflicting time for both parent and youth. These two oppositional drives for the parent and the youth can be overwhelming for both parent and child. If this opposition creates enough of a rift, where parents give up or let go too much or adolescent turns away too much in order to gain freedom, adolescent opportunities to engage in dangerous behavior can result in more serious problems.
The rite of passage work and conscious mentoring of youth can be critical to navigating these turbulent waters, providing a safe container for the exploration that must occur. Parents are challenged to see their role objectively at this stage. Adolescents don’t choose to move outside of family, it is something they must do. It is more of a “fire” that burns within them, that they must follow. Stereotypically, mothers often have a challenge in this letting go phase, while fathers may feel that they have missed some phase of parenting and this is their last chance to fulfill their own sense and role as a parent – of course the challenges faced are different for every family. It is a confusing time for all. An important part of a rite of passage is ensuring that the youth are not solely receiving reflections of “who I am” from their peers, but that they also have healthy adult reflections outside of the home. Without these adult reflections the coming of age is simply youth guiding youth. The coleaders of a group provide this reflection, while still allowing youth to feel that they have their own personal private space apart from the rest of their family and regular peer group and social world. Stepping Stones brings an awareness and consciousness to this process, helping youth and parents make this transition both consciously and developmentally.
There are three main phases for starting a group, which SSP refers to as:
The first phase is information gathering and communication to make sure you have all the information you need about the program structure, history, and philosophy. This usually occurs at a parent information evening, which provides an opportunity for parents to meet with SSP staff or volunteers to review the goals and structure of the program. Alternatively, you can schedule a call with the Program Director.
The next phase is a collaborative phase where SSP works with parents to collect information about the family, the desires the family has for the program, and learns about the prospective youth and parents. This is usually done in two steps. First, the family will fill out an application, which is followed by a phone call between SSP staff and parents to follow up with additional questions, discuss tuition, and verify understandings of the program. This phase completes when SSP receives interest from at least eight families and assigns leaders to the specific group being formed. At this point, SSP will schedule a Parent Leader meeting. This meeting gives parents a chance to be introduced to the leaders, hear from the leaders about their background and leader motivation for wanting to do this work. This meeting also gives the leaders a chance to meet the parents and to hear from parents about their child and reasons for wanting to be in the group. Youth do not attend this meeting.
Finally, after the Parent Leader meeting, parents are asked to make a commitment to the program. This begins the transformative stage of the program which will occur over the next two plus years. This transformation is not only for youth, but for parents and the greater community as well. SSP views this group formation as engaging the entire family system and the surrounding village, not just as a group for youth.
Each group goes through different stages of maturity. On occasion, there may be issues that come up in the group, and parents need to understand that the leaders and parents need to work through challenges, and that the goal is to work through these issues, not to turn away from them. How parents approach challenging issues with the leaders and youth is part of what the youth are watching. We are all mentoring youth, and it is important that parents understand what this commitment means, and what we are teaching our children about facing issues, communicating about them, listening to each other, and speaking our truths. In fact, the challenges faced by the group can be some of the most important learning opportunities for youth. Our children are watching how we work with challenges and we are teaching them by our actions. SSP is set up to face these issues and work together to listen and learn from each other. We ask that there be 100% attendance at meetings during the early phases of group formation, as well as the final stages leading to the marking ceremony.
SSP will provide a 2- to 3-year Coming of Age program for your family, culminating in a “marking ceremony” for both parents and your child. SSP will hire two leaders based on gender, geography, and grade for each group.
Each leader will provide 18 hours of direct time with the family (youth and parent meetings) per quarter. In addition, leaders will also prepare for meetings and write a summary report of each meeting for parents describing the general arc of the group meeting. SSP will also select an elder for each group to provide support to the leaders, and the elder will also attend parent meetings on a quarterly basis. Additionally, SSP will provide leaders with regular mentoring by very senior leaders who will pro-actively check in on the progress of groups. Finally, SSP will provide leaders with peer consultation meetings two times per quarter so that leaders can share their experiences, ask questions, and learn from other leaders. This entire structure is intended to provide your family with a supportive “village” community environment .
SSP pays a stipend to leaders for their work, as well as for leader training, mentoring, and peer consultation. On occasion, SSP may also need to rent facilities for meetings, conduct family interviews, and pay for consultation. SSP also provides insurance and administration of the program through our Program Coordinator.Full tuition for the program is $215 per month. Please see our tuition page for more information.
You can find out more about our leaders by reading their bios as well as checking out the Leader video. Leaders are generally in their late 20s to late 30s and are often earning a professional degree in counseling, psychology, or have other social emotional training, and are all interested in youth and nature. Leaders come from all backgrounds, but at least one of the two leaders will have a wilderness guide training and first aid certification.
SSP will often hear from one parent that the other parent is resistant. This resistance may be due to tuition cost or may be due to a sense that such a program is unnecessary or can be accomplished at home.
We honor these feelings by both parents. The program is not for everyone. The program requires a commitment and support for the program by the whole family. There is a direct relationship between the success and effectiveness of the group and the commitment level of the parents.
SSP can provide either parent with an opportunity to talk with parents of past graduates of the program. This is often effective in creating a better understanding of the goals and results that the program may be able to accomplish. We can do this for mothers or fathers of either boys or girls. Talking with another parent who has been through the program can often deepen the understanding of what the program can offer the entire family.
Often reviewing the videos on our web site can also help the resistant parent better understand the unique facets that SSP offers. SSP staff, council, or board members are also available to discuss the program with either parent.
First and foremost you can explain that the group is about having fun and meeting new friends, and having a place of their own outside of family and school that they don’t need to share with anyone else.
A great way to help your child understand the program is to watch a couple of the videos with them. We recommend the Activities, Nature, and Reflections videos, as well as this video of youth speaking about their experience with SSP:
It is difficult for a child to grasp the concept and purpose of this group, as they have not yet been through this stage of life and understand the challenges that come with it. We recommend keeping the explanation simple and about having a fun place with new friends to call their own and to talk about topics of being a teenager.
You might also want to explore explainng that the group is about helping you as a parent and your child in beginning to understand the changes that are happening in the family for both of you. You can admit that you know you need some support in recognizing the transformations that are occurring as your child moves their “center of gravity” more away from the family and outward into the world.
You can discuss your concerns about the type of support you think kids need in the world today in order to manage the social challenges, peer pressures, and home issues that may be occurring. So the message here is that this is not just “for your child”, but a program for your family – where you will have your own parent meetings, and that what occurs in your child’s meeting will be confidential within the groups and not shared with you as a parent. You are acknowledging the changes that are occurring in the family dynamic and the threshold of risk that your child faces as they enter the middle school years.
You can discuss the program emphasis on nature and discuss the summer trips and daylong trips as a possible plus for your child.
- First, this is not uncommon. Youth are often hesitant to become involved in something that is a suggestion from their parents. See our “hesitancy” video. (Coming soon) Also we cannot expect that they will understand what this program is about, since they have not yet been through this difficult transitional time nor understand how a group can support them.
- SSP can set up a phone conversation between your child and an SSP graduate who has been through the program. They can share their experience about their initial hesitancy about the group and the outcomes they experienced.
- You can have your child watch the Activities video and the Reflections video to get more excited about the program.
- Also have them watch the following video about challenges faced by youth in today’s culture: video coming soon
- Understand that some parents give their children a choice about the program, and others do not. Decision processes for each family vary. While it is important for the child to feel included in decisions at this age, they do not yet know what is important for them or why. The approach can be about a family experience that will help both parent and child to achieve a healthy and supportive new role and balance within the family. Parents also sometimes communicate the coming of age as a family “value”, which is something that is non-negotiable because it upholds the beliefs and values of the family.
- There are circumstances that can occur that result in a member leaving the group. Families may have unanticipated events occur, causing a change or relocation for the family. Or under some circumstances a child and or leader may feel the group is not serving the overall needs of the youth.
- It is important that parents understand that someone leaving the group will have an impact on the group and on the organization.
- Parents who believe that issues are developing for their child need to be in contact with the leaders early on, so that leaders become aware of challenges felt by the group member. It is also important for parents to understand that a child expressing unhappiness in the group may be expressing temporary feelings, or feelings that can quickly change or be worked through over time. One of the main goals of a Coming of Age group is to face challenges and cultivate awareness about how we work with them, and learning commitment and communication through challenges. Leaving the group is a “last resort”, not a first recourse to an unpleasant experience.
- Parents will commit that they will not leave the group unilaterally. In other words, parents will attend a parent meeting and discuss what is going on from their viewpoint at least several meetings prior to actually departing the group. Parents will need to attend at least one parent group to discuss the situation with other parents and with the leaders. As a village, we are modeling for the youth how we choose to show up and communicate when we must end a commitment.
- How a departure occurs is very important. A departure will be discussed well in advance with leaders, parents, and within the group so that all avenues of possibility are explored together.
- It is not uncommon for a group to form and go through one or more rough patches when someone is upset or feels uncomfortable. SSP’s approach is to work with this, discuss it, listen to the feelings associated on all sides, and make sure that all concerned feel heard. The family is joining a group, and all members of the family are committed to the process – including how a departure from the group is handled. Often times it is these very experiences and how they are communicated about and handled that model the most for youth.
This question is commonly asked by parents. Some groups form with friends and families who know each other. Other groups form with kids who do not know each other at all. There have been a number of groups where none of the group members know each other, and these groups have developed a strong bond and trust early in the formation process. This type of group often have fewer preconceived ideas and notions about who the other youth are. There is more flexibility to form a new sense of self in this type of group. And, it is often more difficult and uncomfortable for youth initially, because it is “unknown”.
And sometimes groups form with kids and families who know each other. In these groups, youth feel more comfortable going to the group and there is less anticipated anxiety about the group starting. The challenge can be that it takes longer to overcome the historical identities and roles built up over years of knowing each other. In the end, the relationships formed within the SSP group are different from the relationships the youth had outside of the group.
Which one is better? Neither. Both groups work. However the groups form, the dynamics will be used by the leaders to foster growth within the group – whether the dynamics are challenging or the youth start out as best friends. One can never predict how friendships change over the middle school years – the benefit of the group is that the youth can be conscious of these changes. In most cases, it is the parents who see this issue as more or less significant. There is no question that “it matters”, however, it does not affect the ultimate outcome of the group. Each group is unique and there is no ultimate script for one group being better than another.
When a group enters 9th grade, they experience a Marking Ceremony. In our video on Marking Ceremony, participants discuss the meaning this important time has for them.
You may also be interested in some of the questions held by youth at this age. The questions below are written by a group of students:
What am I going to do with my life?
Why do I let people step over me?
Who am I?
Will I get AIDS?
Will I marry?
Will I live long?
Will I be successful?
Why do I hate people so easily?
What do others think of me?
Why do I get so angry?
Why do my parents fight so much?
Why do I use drugs?
Will a bullet come in my window and kill me?
Will I ever find someone to love?
DO I believe in anything?
What is my purpose in life?
Am I “normal”?
Why do I worry?
Am I really the future?
Why are some people so mean?
Why do people hate others?
Is there a God?
Will there ever be peace?
Is killing ever going to stop?
When will kids stop shooting kids?
When will kids stop having babies?
Is being dead better then living?
Where did life really start?
What is there after death?
Why is it so hard for people to forgive?