THE CRISIS COMPELS LEGISLATIVE ACTION About one third of all at-risk students and 54 percent of Blacks and Hispanics are not graduating with peers. That presents a national crisis in the work force, correctional institutions, foster care programs, schools, and communities. Public school classrooms are challenged by millions of students who are too wounded to perform at optimum level in traditional learning environments. Public schools, however, are not stepping up to the plate with programs that attract and retain wounded students. State legislatures simply must enable communities to side-step status quo public schools through “Triage Schools”, or continue to dump wounded students on communities that are not prepared to address the influx of unemployable youth.
JUSTIFICATION FOR ALTERNATIVE LEARNING OPTIONS The shift in cultural conditions has presented to public schools the awesome challenge to rescue and repair wounded students, especially those who are father-challenged or fatherless. The excellent book, Reaching The Wounded Student, by Joe Hendershott, points out that public school campuses are basically divided into thirds: the top third of students have family support that helps keep students focused on attendance and academics. The middle third is able to gear up sufficiently to deal with family, school, and personal issues in order to graduate. The lower third is so deeply wounded from family neglect and abuse, and negative community issues, that school becomes insurmountable; those students usually give up hope and drop out after repeated failed efforts to endure emotional and/or physical pain inflicted on and off campus.
More than half of the students in most public school classrooms are from single-parent or blended families in which survival is paramount each day. Abuse, abandonment, and grief inflict deep wounds that make daily attendance at traditional campus classrooms unbearable. Classroom teachers face 20 to 30 wounded students each class period in many schools. The top third of students pay attention sufficiently to engage cognitive processes expected by teachers. The middle cohort of at-risk students alternate between paying attention to academics and processing grief, bitterness, and anger at someone outside or within the school. The lower group of at-risk students has such deep wounds that attentiveness to academics is usually less than three minutes before emotional pain muscles out concern over classroom studies. For them, the entire 50-minute class period is a roller-coaster ride between paying attention to the teacher and fighting off thoughts about survival. Consequently, those students fail to complete assignments, and they disrupt the learning process while attempting to get back on track or express their frustration.
The result is that of a regular 50-minute class period, less than 17 minutes actually constitutes productive academic experiences. Teachers are forced to spend the remaining 33 minutes addressing discipline and/or repeating instructions and explanations. The net result is that all students are deprived of 50 minutes of learning experiences, and teachers “burn out” before June.
Dr. Caroline Leaf’s insightful book, Who Switched Off My Brain? documents the liability placed on children who are traumatized by abuse and abandonment, and the consequential academic deficiencies which result in classrooms when students fail to get help and attention to their wounds. Dr. Leaf points out that students traumatized by assault at school or home, and abandonment by parents actually “shut down” their capability to process information in a rational manner. Those students are indeed wounded and in serious need of an academic arena out of the normal educational system. The number one best seller, The Shack, points out the emotional damage which occurs when a person harbors anger, grief, bitterness, and guilt associated with loss of a family member. Police Chief Dr. Nathan Johnson in Winters, Texas has compiled compelling evidence on the consequences of juvenile deviant behavior. Chief Johnson has validated anecdotal evidence that disruptive youth are usually those who have not bonded with a positive adult male role model and consequently have deep emotional wounds caused by traumatic relationships with biological or step fathers. Those youth are simply too damaged to function well in standard classrooms where teachers must do all but stand on their heads to engage students.
Regular classroom teachers and their conventional lecture-based and/or collaborative learning methods based on standard adopted textbooks are somewhat effective with the top third cohort of students. But, wounded students in the lower one-third cohort are too preoccupied with thoughts of survival to engage academics sufficiently to participate in normal classroom activities. Those students deserve and require an educational environment and system at variance with standard classroom procedures , instructional materials, and disciplinary (correctional) policies.
THE NEED FOR A PARADIGM SHIFT Wounded students need access to an alternative learning system and curriculum designed to address the needs of hurting students. Regular classrooms and standard disciplinary methods obviously are not getting the job done in most schools. Research validates the scream for application of numerous educational components that are out-of-the-norm. Wounded students need a sort of “triage” environment equipped to administer emotional and academic first-aid. “Triage Academies” include green plants that provide a sense of harmony and peacefulness. Quiet instrumental music, based on harmony and melody, provides appropriate background sounds that tend to sooth emotions and facilitate concentration, especially for boys. Student cubicles, rather than rows of desks facing a white board, provide a sense of personal space and privacy, and reduce distractions. Regular hardback textbooks are replaced with soft-cover, “bite size” and principle-based curriculum designed specifically to fill the philosophical void created by absentee fathers. Weekly career seminars include lessons from books such as Teaching Eagles To Soar by Tate Publishers, and Seven Habits of Highly Successful Teens by Sean Covey. A paradigm-shift-learning-system requires accountability for choices through a career-enhancement dress code, academic contract, daily goal charts, and mastery-level performance on individualized curriculum. Praise slips and public affirmation of success offer hope and encouragement for wounded students to cope with their emotional challenges while making adequate academic progress. An individualized accelerated learning component allows under-performing students to make up credits rapidly, as is practiced in Premier Academy in Lubbock, Texas. Teachers are trained specifically to address the academic and emotional needs of wounded students, such as are employees of Paradigm Accelerated Charter Schools in Early, Texas. The overall environment of “Triage Academies” generates mental energy and healing for graduation and sustainable careers. Such schools of choice enable communities and school districts to experience fewer leavers, less disruptions in classrooms, and adequate yearly academic progress. The extended national benefit of relief for wounded students will be higher employability and lower adjudication rates.
PUBLIC RELATIONS Legislatures would not only demonstrate wisdom by authorizing innovative “Triage Academies”, but also would be prudent to help communities deal with the ever-increasing challenges of wounded students. Community leaders would be commended for taking bold approaches to reduce student absences, leavers, and academic underperformance. The time is appropriate (essential) for state legislators and school boards to consider ways to improve their districts’ prevention and recovery programs while reducing societal costs associated with wounded, unemployable youth. Officials simply must “bite the bullet” and offer “out-of-the-box” educational options that realistically address contemporary cultural conditions. Educators can continue to insist that all students fit into the traditional school mold, or boards and legislatures can insist that school superintendents design learning environments that are not status quo rows of desks facing white boards. The term, “highly qualified teacher” is almost irrelevant to circumstances associated with academics for wounded students. This is particularly evident among private schools, home educators, and some charter schools which have demonstrated that non-punitive alternative learning environments can effectively educate children who do not perform well in traditional classrooms. The nation is ready to praise public officials and educators who dare to offer alternative learning programs for wounded students.
The advantages and challenges of campus-based or community-based “Triage Academies” are real. Some people will not immediately understand a school board’s boldness to provide relief for classroom teachers who are not trained or suited to address the needs of wounded students. Nor will some persons in the community appreciate the Board’s sincere concern to help recover wounded students. Some critics may not readily embrace the idea of the Board’s commitment to offer learning choices to at-risk students. Others, however, will readily endorse Boards that adjust their school systems to accommodate pandemic cultural challenges stemming from broken families whose life-styles impact classroom teachers. New and inexperienced teachers will praise Boards that allow disruptive and/or under-performing students to transfer to alternative schools established for children who prefer or need an option to regular classrooms and curriculum.
Legislatures and school districts across America are already “biting the bullet” to do whatever is necessary to keep districts compliant with state and federal accountability measures regarding at-risk students. Some districts are setting up district-sponsored charter schools. Others are contracting for services similar to the Royal-Paradigm arrangement in Brookshire, Texas. Others set up magnet schools that specialize in programs designed to attract and accommodate students who simply do not “fit into” the regular classroom structure. Magnet schools specialize in providing career-focused studies in such areas as cosmetology, welding, auto mechanics, service industries, and restaurants in order to accommodate over-age or under-performing students who are likely not to earn a regular diploma before aging out of public school.
Communities will be able to move ahead of the academic innovative curve only when legislatures initiate a true paradigm shift in educational options to accommodate wounded students. Public support is in place and additional support will affirm educators who decide to offer school of choice that will keep communities compliant with state accountability issues regarding at-risk students. Alternative campus-based or community-based “triage schools” will provide a win-win arrangement for states, districts, communities, and families. To continue status quo is a certain formula for forcing wounded students to be left behind. #
Dr. Ronald Johnson is president of Paradigm Accelerated Curriculum. He is also a conference speaker, author, and consultant to families, communities, organizations, and schools that work with fatherless and wounded teenagers. He can be reached at PH: 325-649-0976 or Learn@pacworks.com.
References: Reaching The Wounded Student, Joe Hendershott, Eye of Education, 12-12,2008
The Shack, William Young, Windblown Media, 7-7,2007
Who Switched Off My Brain?, Caroline Leaf, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 11-30, 2009
Teaching Eagles To Soar, Ronald E. Johnson, Tate Publishers, 8-11,2009
Seven Habits of Highly Successful Teens, Sean Covey, Fireside, 10-9,1998