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Abe Blanco

With Abe Blanco, There’s No Giving Up

Abraham Blanco had spent just a few weeks as the tutoring coordinator at Rising Ground’s Residential Treatment Center when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Things changed almost overnight for its young residents who had to shelter in place. Not only could they not see their families, they couldn’t see their usual teachers and therapists at the Biondi School, which had to close. There was a real risk that these students would regress academically and socially.

“It was very hard for them,” says Mr. Blanco. “There was a risk that they’d just give up on themselves…”

Rising Ground’s Residential Treatment Center (RTC) provides intensive therapeutic support for teens experiencing behavioral and emotional disorders. Residents do best when their days are routine and predictable. COVID-19 made that impossible, particularly at the start.

“We needed to create some normalcy so that distance learning would work for them,” Mr. Blanco explains. He quickly transitioned from afterschool tutoring to full-day education, changing his schedule, tasks, and objectives in the process. He became a vital link between 45 teens at the RTC and their remote teachers, assignments, and online lessons.

“What Abe was doing is above and beyond,” says Sue Sampogna, Executive Vice President for Residential & Community Services at Rising Ground. “He shifted gears and stepped up to create a stimulating learning environment for these kids. We’re seeing a high level of engagement.”

Looking to Do Something Meaningful

Mr. Blanco used to teach high school history, but came to Rising Ground seven years ago because he wanted to support young people facing adversity.

He started as a Rising Ground Justice for Youth & Families youth counselor and then became a life skills coach at the RTC. Mr. Blanco learned how to coach young men and women so that they became more confident and comfortable in letting old negative behavior patterns go. His goal is still to help young people feel confident and comfortable when they are challenged as students.

“I focus on critical thinking skills: how to read for key ideas, essay writing, learning and studying skills, organizational skills, and time management,” he says.

He goes over student assignments one by one, identifying the necessary sequence of steps to complete them. One of the biggest challenges for students is expressing ideas. So, Mr. Blanco works with the RTC’s Director of Recreation Jeff Moore to create writing prompts for the students.

“They’re learning how to funnel their ideas out of their heads and into words,” he says.

Although it might seem that Mr. Blanco’s approach is pretty straightforward, it isn’t. He’s working with adolescents who have experienced trauma.

“A question on a test could be an emotional trigger if the student doesn’t know the answer and feels like a failure,” he says. “Students stop believing in themselves, and when they do that, they give up trying to learn.”

But there’s no giving up when Mr. Blanco is the coach. “I’m prepared to work one-on-one with a resident in crisis,” he says. “I know I can help that resident overcome the challenge and feel successful.”

Working at the RTC is very different than Mr. Blanco’s former work as a high school teacher. And he’s fine with that. “I feel like I’m doing what I need to be doing to help young people out,” he says.