In-school program offers safe, nurturing spaces for students with incarcerated loved ones
Children with incarcerated loved ones need safe spaces at school, away from the pressures of teachers or students.
To help these children, POPS the Club offers weekly meetings, including at Venice and Santa Monica high schools.
These meetings are shared through word of mouth or fliers.
There, kids aren’t pressured to participate or share their feelings.
Students who attend can participate in activities like mindfulness and art projects, or just sit and enjoy the company of their peers.
There’s no pressure to participate.
“We want to make sure that the club is for them,” said POPS program director Arielle Harris.
“The support comes from within from their peers and other people who are in the room because there’s this mutual understanding of what it’s like to have a loved one who’s incarcerated.”
POPS was founded by Amy Friedman, who was married to a man who was incarcerated, and Dennis Danziger, who was an English teacher at Venice High School.
Danziger noticed some students were struggling in school because they had a loved one who was incarcerated and were judged because of it.
One student, who was usually quiet, opened up about having a brother in prison.
Danziger said that inspired him to start the support program.
Within the first three weeks, about 40 students joined.
The program has since expanded to schools in Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York and other spots in California.
Harris said there was programming in Alaska as well, but that has been on pause due to the pandemic.
The other programs were moved to Zoom when COVID-19 caused in-person learning to go virtual.
Harris said they didn’t want to take away POPS’ resources, especially because the pandemic was traumatic for students.
So, the programs would meet twice a week and have artists, writers and photographers lead students through exercises.
The activities have returned to in-person since the school year started.
The students aren’t left alone during the summer. POPS the Club meets three to four times a week during the break.
Each year, the program takes art, poetry and other media created by the students and compiles them into a published anthology that can be purchased from the club’s website.
“It’s really cool for them to be published while they’re in middle school and high school, and it’s really cool to see how it brightens their face,” Harris said.
“It also allows people to read this anthology and get a different perspective of what it’s like to have a loved one who’s in prison.”
Harris said POPS is also helpful for teachers and faculty because it gives them a better understanding of what their students might be going through and improves academic support.
“We want to stay in schools and even though POPS is a quick meeting during their lunchtime, it’s a program that’s available to them,” Harris said.
“It’s really helpful for them to have that space where they get to share a meal with people who are experiencing similar things.”
POPS the Club