Men of the House teaches healthy masculinity to Pittsburgh high school football players

Pictured above: Monte Robinson (center, dressed in blue) with the football team he coaches through Men of the House. Photo courtesy of Monte Robinson.

From an early age, boys are inundated with damaging messages that teach them to suppress their feelings — from “boys don’t cry” to “be a man.”

At Homewood Children’s Village, Monte Robinson, director of education, is doing his part to help redefine healthy masculinity for middle and high school boys through an out-of-school-time program called Men of the House.

Through the initiative, male student athletes from Westinghouse High School learn how to develop and strengthen their socio-emotional, physical and academic health. The program’s holistic approach, including workshops, guest speakers and other activities, aims to shape boys in grades 6-12 into self-sufficient, productive and engaged citizens.

Men of the House evolved organically from the conversations Robinson facilitated as a football coach at Westinghouse, where he regularly talked to his team members about what it means to be a man, current events and social issues affecting young Black males.

Through Men of the House, student athletes learn essential life skills like fitness, nutrition, safety and financial and time management. The program focuses heavily on social justice, community service and academics. And it appears to be working: In 2016, 67 percent of the 60 students who participated in Men of the House improved their GPA from one quarter to the next.

Education and career planning are at the core of the program because, as Robinson says, “none of this happens without a good education.”

“Our mission is really to help develop productive citizens, whatever that means,” he says. “Four-year school, community college, working at Home Depot — it runs the gamut.”

But beyond academics and life skills, says Robinson, “there’s really a character development piece.”

For instance, two years ago, Homewood Children’s Village partnered with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) to implement the Coaching Boys Into Men curriculum. At Men of the House meetings — which are held Monday through Thursday throughout the school year — Robinson uses the curriculum as a platform to address everything from recognizing abusive language to understanding consent and respectfully navigating social media interactions with girls and women.

According to Julie Evans, PAAR’s director of education and training, talking about dating, sexual violence and healthy relationships has the added benefit of making team members closer with each other and their coaches — on and off the field.

“It’s a safe space for kids to talk, be honest, practice skills, learn and listen to adults they have a relationship with,” she says.

Funded by the CDC, Coaching Boys Into Men was developed by the national nonprofit FUTURES without Violence. PAAR Educator Bernie Colbert takes the curriculum into the community, and Dr. Elizabeth Miller, chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, has been conducting a research study on preventing sexual violence through the program.

Evans says outcomes have been promising, with teen bystanders intervening more often in scenarios where they witnessed sexual harassment or violent behaviors of their peers, and a marked decrease in the perpetration of sexual violence.

And Robinson has witnessed the positive effects of the program firsthand.

“It’s really starting a dialogue by creating an intentional space for young men to have these conversations, and a skill set and tools to handle these situations when they arise,” he says. “Is there a profound impact right away? No. We let them develop at their own speed, but there’s definitely an impact.”