Detroit Mercy Social Work student pilots Virtual After School Program at area high school

January 03, 2018

Studies show teens are most likely to get in trouble during the hours between the end of the school day and dinnertime.

The University of Detroit Mercy Department of Social Work is working to help resolve that issue with a new Virtual After School Program.

“The Virtual After School Program is currently being run at Old Redford Academy High School in Detroit as part of a year-long faculty research grant from the University,” explained Janet Joiner, department chair of Detroit Mercy’s Social Work program. 

Detroit Mercy Social Work Intern Brogan Holmes is currently working at Old Redford and has three high school-aged students she meets with twice weekly from 4-6 p.m.

“The first hour is all about health and wellness,” Holmes said. “I had them download a fitness app. They track their water intake, what they eat and how much activity they do. They have a goal set and they try to reach that goal every day.

“The second half, we do some research. Right now, we are working on small talk. I realized, students, if they are in an elevator and it’s awkward sometimes with another person they don’t know, they may resort to their phone. Instead of doing a little small talk, they just look down at their phones because they think that’s the safe spot. We’re working on that, just getting them to open up a little more.”

The three students meet with Holmes via video chat software called VC, which has encryption built in for security purposes. Holmes is able to record all her sessions and store them securely.

“It’s been great because they can just open up their laptops and get on it, instead of having to walk someplace because none of the students I work with drive,” Holmes said. “All they have to do is open their laptops, so it’s very convenient. It’s been working well.”

The Virtual After School Program teaches the students about technology, but also addresses the mental health issues sometimes associated with technology, such as digital dementia, nomophobia (the fear of being without a mobile phone), selfie syndrome, photo-taking disorder and cyberbullying.

“We came to a conclusion that students are using their phone for everything, they’re not even reading from books,” Holmes said. “I asked a girl about history and she said, ‘If we don’t have our phones then we wouldn’t know anything about history.’ I was like, ‘What about books?’ She said, ‘No one reads those anymore.’ All we do is look at stuff on the computer. Their eyes are adjusting to the computer and reading on a screen rather than reading a book. So it’s hard for people to read books now.”

Four students stare at their phones.Digital dementia is becoming a major problem for some people who have grown up surrounded by cell phones, tablets and computers. The devices offer easy access to information, but in many cases students rely too much on technology to remember things for them.

“Digital dementia is a medical issue that we’re seeing in medical research journals about teenagers who outsource their brain to their phones, so they may struggle with memory,” Joiner said. “Some of the symptoms of digital dementia are similar to what we see in older people with dementia. The inability to remember, the frustration, the anxiety. We are seeing some of these symptoms in children using their devices and not being able to let them go,” she added.

Nomophobia is also a major problem and can be seen in people of all ages.

“It’s a real mental health issue,” Joiner said. “For example, on your way to work today, if you left your cell phone at home and you were already 20 minutes away from home, are you likely to go home and get it? Because so much is involved in our phones, we may feel like we can’t be without it. With nomophobia we are talking about people who exhibit many of the same characteristics that we see with people who are addicted to drugs. They may go through withdrawals. They have some of the same physical challenges that we see with people who are addicted to drugs.”

The Department of Social Work virtual after school program is the first facilitated by a Detroit Mercy student, but there is a high probability there will be more in the future.

“I think there are other schools and agencies that would benefit from this,” Joiner said. “As part of our profession, we’re expected to use technology, so providing students these learning opportunities so they can apply what they learn is important.”

Holmes said she has already recommended the program to some of her peers.

“If they want to do something with students and work in a school, this is a perfect opportunity,” Holmes said. “A lot of other social work students at Detroit Mercy think it’s a great idea and want to do it in the future.”

— By Dave Pemberton. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.