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    Creating Schools that Work

    By D. Lynn Byrne, Ph.D.     

    Is your child’s school not living up to your expectations? Have administrators stated there simply aren’t enough local or state resources (money, staff, and/or space) available to provide quality, functional, reality-based educational programming in your area? Are you thinking there has to be some way your school can provide for the very specific needs of the students in your area? If you are, you’re right. Public school campuses can create programs that meet the needs of their students—even when resources are scare and students overabundant. How? it takes a great deal of work and commitment on the part of all involved to make education a success; but, a few campuses have done it—and have done it quite successfully.

    What are these schools doing that makes such a difference? They’ve created flexible, student-centered programs that place a priority on learning rather than testing. What does this mean? In urban environments especially, they may have created split shift programs, where students come for just morning, just afternoon, or just evening classes. Incorporating this type of programming into an educational setting on a regular campus (not an alternative center designed to serve “troubled” youth) means there's a higher likelihood that children with children can have another family member take care of their children; and it makes it possible for those children that need to work to survive to do so adequately and still remain in the educational system. In a school where schedules are kept to the traditional 8:00-3:00 (day) schedule, the likelihood that teens with children and/or teens with high economic need can attend enough classes to complete a course, let alone a full high-school program, decreases tremendously. How do these schools manage this if they don’t really have the dollars, staff and space? If the school doesn’t have the resources, then they have to partner with an entity that does. Successful schools work very hard to involve the local community—businesses, non-profit service agencies, health/human services agency and workforce/employment agencies in the school. By forming strong community partnerships, they are able to offer not only tutoring and mentoring programs; but, job-shadowing, internships, work-learning cooperatives, on-site/near-site day-care and health-care services, adult diploma completion programs, GED programs, etc. Directly involving the community and local support agencies in the educational process increases the likelihood that our students and their families will have direct access to the support services and information they need to help our children stay in school and complete their high-school diploma.

    What about morale and behavioral issues on campus? Successful schools make personal responsibility a priority. Students are required to take responsibility for their own actions and often must sign contracts outlining appropriate behavior and clear cut outcomes for infractions. Peer to peer counseling is also generally part of the day-to-day programming at such schools. Schools that set up committees of teens to review and adjudicate issues related to their peers, that appoint teens as peer counselors, and heavily involve the teens in every part of the educational process are more successful.

    Concerned about buy-in? Successful schools generally do everything they can to make certain not only the administration but also all staff, faculty, students and parents are 100 percent clear on expectations--and they make certain these expectations make sense and are based in reality. Our children understand a lot more than we give them credit for. If they feel the ONLY reason the school is pushing attendance and participation is because of testing/finance issues (yes, our students read the papers, they watch the news, they know about the link between money and school performance), then they're going to blow us off. As an educational community, we have to find ways to make education personally important to our kids. "What's in it for me?" plays a big part in the educational process.

    Whether or not a school is successful boils down to the administration’s, staff’s and faculty’s ability and desire to really get to know their local population (students, families and community), to involve them in the educational process, to clearly define expectations, to make outcomes real for students (what's in it for me), to provide information/access to support services to keep kids in school, and to be flexible. If we all agree to work together, a shortage of resources won’t stop us from creating an educational community that works for our children. The key for parents will be convincing the educational leaders in their community that change is possible.

    Written by D. Lynn Byrne, Ph.D.Rate this article:

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