Reaching At-Risk Youth

I read an article today called, Socioeconomic status as child dictates response to stress as adultBasically, this article was about how individuals who grew up poor or lacking in resources, tend to make decisions that are likely to bring immediate rewards as opposed to delayed gratification when faced with stressful/life threatening situations.  “The research also suggests that efforts using a ‘you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow’ approach to persuade at-risk kids to stay in school or avoid risky behaviors might be ineffective.”  They propose that instead efforts should be made to communicate a sense of security and well-being.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when my students come to me telling me about how their cousin was shot at the Taco Bell, or how they don’t get home until 9:00 pm because they have to wait for their father to ride the bus home with them to one of the worst parts of town, I don’t think my saying, “You are safe and all is good,” will really have that much of an impact on them.  So how do we reach these kids?  As I ask that I think to what lead to my success.  I grew up in the projects, the only child of a single mother.  What made the difference for me was that my mother wouldn’t put up with anything less than my best in school.  She took an active role in my education and applied for me to get a scholarship for a private school.  Although I was very aware that I was poor, I was inculcated with the belief that education would make things better for me in the future.  My mom also took some college courses while I was in grade school.  I remember being very proud of her and feeling that her education would lead to a better life for both of us.  She never finished her degree and that was quite a disappointment for me.  I do believe that is when I started being a normal teen and acting out a bit more.  So I guess for me a lack of future security did lead to riskier behavior.

Now, how can we use this knowledge to improve education for at risk youth?  Is it enough to just say that things will be okay?  I doubt it.  I think that youth need to actually believe it and have reasons for believing it.  Also, they can’t be told, “When you graduate from college….”  That’s too far into the future.  Perhaps setting short-term doable goals for them that will somehow improve their life.  Rewards for accomplishments.  Would this be enough?  I have no idea, but I doubt it.  I think back on my 18 years teaching and I remember being successful with some difficult students.  But how?  What did I do?  I think it was a matter of 1) showing them that I cared,  2) taking time to work with them individually, and 3) being a cheerleader for them.  This worked for most students, not all.  And many of those students fell back into their poor academic habits once the year was over and they left my class.

So what’s the answer?  I have no idea!  Any possible answer seems too simplistic and limited in scope, but one thing is for sure…we can never stop trying!

School’s.Out.for Summer!!!

We did it!  We managed to get to the end of the year.  I don’t think I’ve cried that much at the end of the year since 1994, my first year teaching.  I really felt that this was my last time in a classroom setting…at least in this way.  Oh, have I mentioned that I was RIFed (laid off due to reduction in force) and I have gone in to sign up as a substitute.  I’m actually not as upset about it as one would think I’d be after 18 years in the classroom because I have projects that I want to complete this year.  I would like to get my National Board Certification and I want to start an online charter school through LAUSD.  That should keep me busy, doncha’ think?

I got my teaching credential in the late 90’s through the District Intern Program and I have heard that the National Board Process is very similar to that.  Therefore, I figured if I’ve done it once, no reason I can’t do it again.  Now the only question is for what specialty I should apply.  Although I have a multiple subject credential, that is not how I want to be certified.  I am thinking either Math or ESL.  I loved teaching my beginning ESL class.  It was very challenging and always brought something new.  That is right up my alley!  However, there is a national need for math teachers, so I think that it might be smart for me to get certified in math.  However, if I do choose math, there is still the question of “What level?”   Do I select the middle school level, or the high school level?  Just for the sheer challenge, I would love to select high school, but all of my experience is with middle school.  (sigh)  What to do?

Now, I am absolutely jazzed about starting a charter school!  I want a different model than what is currently out there and LAUSD does not have any online charter schools.  I figure the reason is that it is a difficult process, so me being me, I am looking forward to the challenge.  I plan to do a lot of research this summer and I am confident that as I discuss it more, I will be able to get a board together to do it.  My strength is in realistic curriculum that will work IRL (in real life) but I need a board to help with getting the idea from my head and into the real world, or virtual world.  I can’t wait to get started.

As I start these projects however, it is all bittersweet.  I will definitely miss the classroom.  And I can’t begin to express how much I will miss my students.  I love the interaction I had with them and I really love the rapport that I was always able to create with these middle schoolers.  I am going to miss my monkeys.

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