Thomas G. Valore
Alexís account of his reclaiming journey is rich in Re-ED, as is evident by fully-engaged parents, trusting relationships, sound ecological assessment and service delivery, a focus of competent, caring staff, and the pursuit of joy.
Entering Re-ED at age 15, Alex, with his family and the staff, spent three years working and learning together to reach the goals that Alex speaks to in his culminating story. The following transcript of a videotaped Petition to Graduate meeting held at the Positive Education Program is an example of the Re-ED philosophy, its principles and biases in action. All staff questions and comments are italicized.
Alexís Petition to Graduate
Good afternoon, Alex. You have written a fine petition and collected the necessary preliminary signatures that indicate your readiness for this final meeting. We are here to discuss and to hear you defend your readiness to graduate from our program. We would like to follow the outline of your paper, which includes the behaviors that led to your referral to us, how you addressed those behaviors, and your future challenges and plans. Why donít we go back in time and talk about why you were referred and about your experience at your previous school?
Okay Starting at my old school, I had a lot of anger problems with a lot of the staff and students. I showed a lot of anger and aggression toward them. I felt that I had some problems, and, instead of teachers helping, they made things worse. Certain teachers were always setting problem kids up ďthatís what they called us ďsaying, "You think youíre tough ďcome on and hit me, I dare ya." So anger and aggression were problems, and I also eventually got into doing a variety of drugs. Thatís about it. Thatís all I can think of now.
Was there one significant incident that you had in your former school that led to your being referred to us?
Oh yeah! Well, this teacher, Mr. A., he was one out of that group of teachers that made things worse for any kid who had any kind of problem. He was like the leader of them. One day I was sent to the office again, and on the way down to the office, Mr A. appeared, like out of nowhere, and started telling me all sorts of things about how I was never going to be anything, about how Iím nothing, that I was the worst kid that ever came in that school and how I belong in jail, and everything else. When we got in the office with the principal, everything was a little different. He [Mr. A.] changed and said stuff like, "So Iím really worried about you, Alex. I want to see you grow, I want to see you succeed, and everything else." Then, when the principal left, Mr. A. put his hand on my shoulder and began talking his negative stuff. He wouldnít quit, and thatís the last thing I remember. But from things I heard, I got up and I hit him and made him feel it. We got into it pretty bad.
I remember your talking about that. You described him as a person who typically behaved this way.
With me and with other problem students or whatever you want to call us.
What were you trying to show him at that point?
That he was smaller than me. He always made everyone feel small.
So you had problems with anger and disrespect and with using drugs and alcohol. What would you say is different now? What has changed?
I came here and I found a lot of different ways to deal with my anger and my aggression ďa lot more control. And I donít use drugs anymore.
What are some of the ways that you control and cope with your anger?
It depends on my surroundings. If Iím at home, IĖll work out usually, or IĖll leave, if thatís the only option. IĖll just go to my friend's house or do whatever thereís to do. If Iím at work, sometimes I can talk it out with my buddy, who helps me calm down. When Iím in school, if I have the option, when Iím aggravated, I just put my head down and I can think about it in my head.
WeĖve talked a little bit about how Mr. A. made you feel. You said you wanted to take matters into your own hands and show him whoís boss and knock him down to size is that about it? WeĖve never seen that here. Why not?
I never had a reason to, here.
What does that mean? What was different?
All of you just handed me respect and trust from the start. You gave it to me as a person. You didnít treat me like I needed to be walked around with my hand held. You treated me like ďhowever old I was ďwith just as many rights as anybody else. I never had that in a school. I didnít want to lose it.
Itís a powerful thing to feel isnít it?
Yes. The bad stuff wasnít just with Mr. A. He did it a lot ďsometimes more than other teachers ďbut he was just at the right place, at the right time, or I guess the wrong place and time. But it was more of my attack at the school. I was wrong in what I did, but I needed help. And they never helped; they just wanted to get rid of me.
When you first got here to our program, you said you were handed trust. When you walked into the classroom, how was it conveyed to you? How did you feel it? How did you know?
I just knew it. I donít know, it was just at that level. I knew. I guess it came through. You could just feel that these people were real. Oh yeah, they kept their word on everything, too. And, if I said something, staff would believe me. I could tell it wasnít fake. And they were fair with everyone.
So part of it is that they kept their word, and it sounds like you werenít singled out.
Yeah, that was one thing I saw that all the people had the same thing. Everybody was just like me, pretty much. Other people had other problems, but I was no different from everybody else, so there wasnít any room for singling out. But even if there was, they didnít ďmy teachers Mr. D., Ms. J., or no other staff here.
What happened when you would have a problem here? If you were upset about something or when you were in the classroom and you were irritated with other kids, how was that different?
Usually, we lust talked it over. Ms. I. took me out in the hall a few times and talked to me. Sheíd ask me, "What happened?" instead of yelling, "Look at what you did!" Before she went to another staff to talk to them about my problem, sheíd go to me to find out my story.
Is that respect? Is that trust?
Definitely. Itís more like Ms. J. would think thereís my story first, Iím the one involved in the situation, then IĖll go to the staff and get their side.
I know we talked a little bit about the behaviors that got you here, and we talked about the things that have changed. My question is: Why did they change? What was the turning point?
The major turning point was first getting off of drugs. That made me a little smarter, a little wiser, or whatever you want to call it. Clearer. I could see things differently, a little clearer I saw everything differently I could relate to things differently My anger didnít boil up as quickly or as long. I think that was one of the major turning points. And more trust. I had more people behind me trying to get me to do the right things and helping me.
Why do you think you got off of drugs here and not at the other school?
At the other school it was easier to get, and I didnít want to get off. I had no reason to.
Why do you think you were using those drugs?
There were a lot of reasons. They were fun, and I guess I used them like an escape. Trying to forget and trying to escape.
Trying to forget something in particular?
A lot of things, most probably what went on at the school. I used a lot before, during, and after school, and on the weekends. I remember not using as much on weekends ďnot needing as much.
I know you didnít give up drugs immediately after you came here. In fact, an incident occurred early on during a camping trip. How did that incident affect things?
I know I screwed up a lot of peopleís plans and fun because of it. I know I kept people up late hours. I made a few people drive places I know they didnít want to drive to come out from home in the middle of the night to help me and the staff. I donít remember too much of that night. I can remember my age dramatically increasing, maturing, but thatís about it.
What about after the incident, when you came back to school and your classroom talked about it?
Nobody really seemed to be angry. More disappointed, I think. This was the first camping trip of the year, and then, I didnít know what camping trips were really like. I was just guessing by how everybody talked about them that they were fun. I guess what I thought was fun was a little different than what the group thought. I knew I had ruined peopleís fun.
Can you remember just after the incident, before you were to encounter the group? What were your feelings about what to expect? Were you concerned?
At first, yes, but Ms. J. helped me. She told me to meet her before school started. I had to talk to her first before everybody else was there. I donít remember the conversation because it was a while ago, but I remember that it wasnít like, "You screwed up!" She talked to me like I was a person. Looking back, I think she prepped me for the meeting so I would control myself.
Trust and respect again?
Was it different than consequences that you faced at the other school?
Well, at the other school, when I got consequences, I was happy because it meant I could stay home and do anything I wanted, which was good for me. But here I wasnít happy with myself. I felt I had let people down, and I didnít like feeling that way. At first, I thought it was going to be like everything else when I messed up; punishment, isolation, never letting it go. But when I found out it wasnĖt, I think that was another thing that really made me realize this school was a lot different from my old school. The consequence was not going home for five or ten days. Then youíd have to have a remedial drug class, and then a fine, and be labeled as a junkie for the rest of the time that youíre there. Here, itís more like you made a mistake. You deal with it like a man, and hereís your consequence and that is it. When itís over, itís over. They donít keep bringing it up like at my old school. Nobody brings it up unless I do.
One of the things I remember clearly is your interaction with your dad. Not only did you have problems with authority figures in school, but you had a lot of problems interacting with your dad as well. A lot of anger there. Would you agree?
How would you characterize your relationship with your Dad now?
I would say weíre best friends.
Why do you think the relationship changed?
I saw it changing when I began to quit drugs, and as time progressed, we could finally sit down and talk. And since I was showing that I would talk and he was beginning to show that he would talk, you know it just kinda landed. I think Mom and Dads attending parent group with you guys really helped open some doors. I donít know what you did on those nights, but it worked. They understood my problems better, and I reacted to them in a different way I got a job the summer before I came back to school. I was still using drugs, and when I got off of them, things just started to get a little bit better. You know, one day at a time. In the morning I could walk by him and just say, "Hi." The next day I could say, "Hi Dad, how are you doing?" Soon, I was drinking coffee with him in the morning.
What else occurred in your relationship with your dad?
Another time came when I wanted to join the Army National Guard. I needed his signature because I was 17. Even though things were a lot better, I still wasnít sure how heíd react. I told him I had papers to enlist in the Guard, and before I could throw in, "Dad, this is what I want. I really want this. Can you please sign?" he said, "Where do I sign?" He looked proud. I think I showed him a lot of responsibility on my part and dedication, showing I do have a goal.
You didnít expect that reaction?
I wasnít sure what to expect. It showed me that he had enough trust that I could do it. Enough trust that I wasnít going to mess it up. Enough respect for me. I think Dad felt that this is what his son wants, and he thinks Iím mature enough to get it and do it. Itís like what I think his reaction was to me coming home from Boot Camp. That reaction showed me his feelings, which I think brought our relationship a lot closer, and now our relationship is even closer than it was then. My going away and going through the toughest time in my life so far, getting letters from him and sending letters to him and everything.
Respect and trust from home also?
Yeah, and when he came to Boot Camp graduation, and I saw him with the video camera just running towards me, and my mom mauling me and hugging me and kissing me. Getting all the tears on me and my dad doing the same thing. I knew things were different. We could never go back to those old ways.
You shared something with us before about the significance of joining the Guard and being at Boot Camp. Why is that such a significant event between you and your father?
He did the same thing. Heís been through Basic Training. He was at the same place I was, his barracks were across the street. He had almost the same job. Technology has changed a little, so thereís a little difference, but all in all we have the exact same job. Basically, heís done the same thing that Iíve just completed.
Did that feel good, or did you not want to do the same thing?
That made me feel good. And also when my dad was in the Army, he excelled quite a bit, and when I excelled, it was like we could talk about things more. When I got home, he finally started talking about Vietnam and things to me, because he knew now I was old enough to handle it. Iím in the Army myself now.
Just after Christmas, we had a most memorable parent group here. Your mom and dad came to parent group. And like so many other groups, your dad was talking about how proud he was of you. At one point he reached into his pocket and pulled out this little gift that you had given him, and he had tears coming down his face as he talked to us about that gift. Can you talk about that gift and its significance?
Well, the last time my dad went to Vietnam, he showed me his Army stuff and two Army commendation medals. One for meritorious service and on the other one, there was a V-Device for Valor. He was also wounded and received a Purple Heart. No matter how many problems we had, I always held him in high respect because of those medals, because I know what he had to go through ďhe showed me the scars ďwhat he had to go through to get those. Iíve read all the articles on what he had to do. So when I went looking for Christmas presents, instead of getting another fireman's statue, I decided to get him a brass Zippo lighter and had the words American Hero engraved on it and the date 12/25/1999. Because to me thatís what he is.
He is to us as well. I have to mention that he was not the only one with tears on his face during that meeting.
What are your plans for the immediate future and the long term?
Immediate future, I plan on working full time at a local fitness center for now, and IĖll see how that goes. Iím getting moved up to program director, which is sales. Iím also going to be attending Emergency Medical Training School at a career center, a four-hour class twice a week to get my national certification. Those will be my short-term goals. And for long term, basically finishing up my training with the National Guard, and this coming summer, artillery school, and taking the test for the fire department.
Sounds good. Thanks for bringing this in today (photograph of Alex in uniform). What do you think? Is this you now?
I think so.
Well, youĖve done a great job. YouĖve come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. Itís pretty phenomenal. From a kid who was very angry, disrespectful, and using, to this (holding up Alexís photograph) young man in the Guard. Short- and long-term goals and a great relationship with his dad and family. Most of all, you should feel proud of yourself Any final thoughts?
Itís hot in here.
It is hot in here!
Alex, could you please let this group know about the offer you made to me.
I told Ms. J. that if you ever need anyone to talk to anybody about my experience, just let me know, and I could talk to them.
That would be nice. Itís always better to hear it from the guys than from us.
If you need a drill sergeant, I could help you with that.
We may need that, too.
Well, what do you think? Shall we grant this graduation?
Thomas G. Valore, PhD, is the program director for the Positive Education Program, Cleveland, Ohio. He can be reached at: 216.361,4400; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This feature: Valore, T. G. (2002) American Hero(es). In Reclaiming Children and Youth. Vol.11 No.2, pp.68-71