As someone who designed, developed, and implemented an “at-risk” junior high program for twelve years, as well as having two masters degrees in education and experience teaching teachers in their masters programs here are some thoughts: First of all, the degrees I hold have VERY little to do with my knowledge. It is experience, trial and error, and just plain exposure to any and every type of student and family circumstance that gives one a keen sense of how to deal “alternatively” with education. While the term “junior high at-risk” may be redundant, I find it hilarious that school systems attempt to “standardize” the instruction while encouraging teachers to consider the “individual student”. Having dealt with honors students as well as the “Yes, your honor, No, your honor” students, I can safely say that they are very similar in personality. Both see the flaws and the fallacies in education and immediately look to exploit them. For instance, in many districts, if you skip enough school, they suspend you. Hmmm, is this really a punishment? Many kids learn that if they don’t fit in the standardized box on either end of the spectrum, then the district has to figure out something to do with them. Knowing this, many sit back and watch adults run circles around them, involving professionals of all shapes and sizes. It’s quite entertaining to see a student come into a meeting with a psychologist, a behavior specialist, a lawyer, a parole officer…..hang on let me get a few more chairs. My first question to the kid is “What are YOU doing for your education? I see what all these other people are doing, what are YOU doing?”
Let the squirming begin. The downside of this is that it teaches kids to expect others to come up with answers and solutions and placements for them, rather than taking responsibility for
their own progress, failures, or pathways.
“I was late because my mom didn’t wake me up”. My response: “What time would you like me to call you tomorrow morning, I’m up at 5:30”. Or the long time catch all, “This is boring”. Somehow this is the great debating point that should end all schoolwork as we know it?
My response: “Good let’s hurry and finish then so we can get to the interesting stuff”. It matters not whether you are going to Yale or going to jail, the fact remains that until we stop trying to cram the square pegs into the round holes, we will lose some kids who are incredibly capable. Whether it’s the incredibly high IQ student who simply won’t turn things in because he/she is bored, or the kids who think it would be funny to put Vodka in a Mountain Dew can, both see the irregularities and exploit them. We need to create personal relationships with kids so that the loopholes are eliminated by challenging and forcibly returning the responsibility TO them. You’ll be amazed at the results, and when one looks at the state of education, we really have “no other alternative”.
I would love to publish more on dealing specifically with at-risk students if there is a demand. Drop me a line anytime.