Alternative Perspectives on Educating Todayís Students
4 My School Is Like a Family / Troy Sean Welcome
7 If Alternative Schools Are the Answer Whatís the Question? / Robert Fizzell & Mary Anne Raywid
10 The Tools of Encouragement / Timothy Evans
15 Respect Begets Respect and Other Lessons from Project Breakaway / Leslie Skooglund
18 Alternative Programs for At-Risk Students: Wolves in Sheepís Clothing? / Richard Sagor
23 Teaching Students to Overcome Frustration / Martin Henley
27 Creature Comforts: Animal-Assisted Activities in Education and Therapy / Michael Kaufmann
32 Improving School-Based Behavioral Interventions Through Use of the Wraparound Process / Lucille Eber with Barbara Huff
37 Learning Styles Strategies That Help At-Risk Students Read and Succeed / Marie Carbo
43 How to Wage Peace: The Skills of Principled Negotiation / Linda Lantieri
47 Meeting the Needs of Children and Youth with Challenging Behaviors:Module 2 / Lyndal M. Bullock & Ann Fitzsimons-Lovett
54 The Learning Unlimited Program: The Four Cís of Creating Caring Communities / Jim Ellsberry
58 The Positive Education Program in Practice / Mary M. Quinn, David Osher, & Thomas Valore
63 The Dallas County Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program / Arzell Ball
65 All Students Can Learn: Best Practices for Alternative Schooling / Jay Smink
from the editors
Fighting for Success
Alan Meredith Blankstein
I have been a student and admirer of martial arts for many years. While I have sparred with a variety of opponents since my first karate lesson in ninth grade, my favorite partner is a ten-year-old boy named Sidiki.
I have been a friend and "big brother" to Sidiki since meeting his father, a world-class scholar who moved to the U.S. from Mali, West Africa, five years ago to attend Indiana University. When I first met Sidiki, he was a bright, happy, and energetic boy, with whom I connected by "playing karate."
My first sign that there might be trouble in Sidikiís life came during the summer when I was teaching him to swim. His mother began to call unexpectedly to cancel our times together at the pool, and eventually, the lessons stopped altogether. Only later did I learn that she had not wanted me to see the bruises Sidiki had received at the hands of his father, which would have been revealed by his swimming wear.
Almost three years later, Sidikiís mother, though unemployed and unable to speak English, liberated herself from her abusive husband. Not surprisingly, Sidikiís grades were plummeting at the time, and he got into an increasing number of fights in school. Acting once again as a "big brother," I began helping Sidiki with his homework in the evenings, and regularly fed him his first meal of the day, other than his school lunch. Tutoring him reconfirmed for me his intelligence capacity for learning. It also reveal the many non-cognitive impedimei to his academic success. I decided work more closely with his school help stem his academic slide.
Sidikiís mother already had an appointment with his teachers and quested that I join her. When arrived at his classroom, we asked the teachers to give their analysis of situation first.
Mrs. G started off. "Sidiki is not performing at the skill level of his mates," she told me. "He has difficultly paying attention and refuses to participate in class. His reading comprehension is well below grade level and his scores on our standardized tests indicate that his math skills are only at third-grade level. And remember, he was held back a year, so for his age he should really be performing at fifth-grade level."
Mrs. B had a more succinct analysis: "He just doesnít get it! I think he may be learning-disabled."
I shared with Mrs. B that this ten-year-old African immigrant had already learned and spoke four languages, the last of which was English. I told her that in our evening tutoring sessions, Sidiki could remain exclusively focused on his homework for hours at a timeóoften longer than I could! While he sometimes began slowly, he became quite enthusiastic and excited about his academic studies once he was engaged. I also tried to help her understand the tremendous tumult in Sidikiís family life, and the pressure and abuse he received from his father.
As I spoke, it was clear that neither teacher had been aware of Sidikiís impressive multilingual abilities, his enthusiasm for learning and capacity for intense concentration, his fatherís status as an international scholar, or the abuseóphysical and otherwiseóSidiki received from him. As I revealed these facts, a look of empathy began to play on Mrs. Bís face until she caught herself, closed down her emotional response, and said defensively, "What do you want me to do? I have 25 students to take care of and Sidiki doesnít want to pay attention!" Mrs. Bís analysis of Sidiki quickly shifted from learning-disabled to learning-defiant, and from Sidikií s needs to her own limitations.
I certainly could not fault her expression of frustration. I am painfully aware of the tremendous challenges faced by teachers and youth professionals everywhere due to limited resources and growing demands. And while I knew that my personal relationship with Sidiki was a key factor in my progress with him, I certainly understood that Mrs. B could not spend two or three hours each night with each of her 25 students, as I could with Sidiki. However, the question still remained for all of us: What could we do to ensure Sidikiís success?
The way we frame the challenge of ensuring success for troubled youth reveals our assumptions about why they are having troubles in the first place. Are they defiant? Disabled? Or are they displaying symptoms caused by a system that is not meeting their needs?
This issue of Reaching Todayís Youth does not attempt to define a single answer. Rather, it explores approaches to help young people get beyond "defiance," therapeutic and family involvement strategies that build on strengths rather than fixing "disabilities," and methods of transforming systems to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse and needy population.
All three of these elements are frequently addressed in descriptions of best practices in "alternative education." One aspect of "alternative education" focuses on the use of nontraditional or underused teaching strategies that work with challenging young people. Authors including Timothy Evans, Leslie Skooglund, Martin Henley, and Michael Kaufmann offer such concrete strategies that individual teachers, parents, and youth professionals can use to reach learners who are discouraged or "defiant."
"Alternative education" may also describe a variety of schooling and programmatic options for youth who do not meet codified norms of behavior or academic success in mainstream settings. Articles such as "The Positive Education Program in Practice," "Improving School-Based Interventions," and "Learning Styles Strategies That Help At-Risk Learners Read and Succeed" all address promising programs and teaching techniques that seek out and build on the remarkable strengths and abilities of children and families often dismissed as "disabled."
Finally, many define "alternative education" as the transformation of our current systems for educating and reaching all young people. The research provided by Robert Fizzell and Mary Anne Raywid, Richard Sagor, and Jay S mink helps frame the many promising avenues to system-wide transformation that have been employed by successful alternative programs throughout North America.
BUILDING THE CIRCLE
There is at least one Sidiki in most classrooms todayóoften several. Everyone who has worked with children in Sidikiís position knows that we need alternative approaches and systems to address their emotional and behavioral issues while working to develop their cognitive and social skills.
Sidikií s story has no "happy ending." He is still a fourth-grader coping with adult-sized struggles. Hopefully, his teachers, his mother, and I will begin to develop the community circle of caring necessary to turn these struggles into life successes. While a solitary teacher, concerned parent, or helpful mentor can each make a difference in Sidikiís life, this tiny U.S. "village" will need to grow before it can raise and support him like the one he left with his childhood in West Africa.
Reaching Todayís Youth, is Past President of the Council Jbr Children with Behavior Disorders, the Regentís Professor of Special Education/Behavioral Disorders at the University of North Texas, and Co-Director of the Institute for Behavioral and Learning Differences.