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Posts Tagged ‘at-risk children’

Photo: Brian Hatton
Amir Brann, social work director of Public School 446 in New York, leads second-graders in an art exercise that helps build collaborative skills.

How many decades have we been saying that schools are asked to do too much? We bemoan the fact that teachers must often act as substitute parents, police officers, advisers on social services, and more — an endless list.

Today some schools have stopped saying that it’s not fair and have decided instead to tackle the hard reality.

Meredith Kolodner writes at the Hechinger Report (a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education), “Three years ago, when Public School 446 opened in a building where two others had failed, it inherited many of the youngest students. Among them was a second-grader who was supposed to be in fourth grade and was reading at a kindergarten level.

“The boy was one of a handful of students who had regular violent outbursts — he threw chairs and hit other kids.

“ ‘He was coming to school with a lot of stress, and he wasn’t being successful academically, so he was acting out,’ said Meghan Dunn, the principal of P.S. 446 in Brownsville. ‘Kids would rather be known as the bad kid than the dumb kid.’

“Dunn was well aware of the building’s troubled history when she agreed to open the new school in 2012, after two previous elementary schools in eight years were closed for poor performance. Dunn knew she’d be working in a community that desperately needs stability: Brownsville has the second-highest rate of student homelessness in Brooklyn and the highest elementary school student absenteeism in the city — 40 percent of its children miss 20 or more days of school per year.

“The neighborhood is the poorest in Brooklyn and also has one of the highest rates of psychiatric hospitalizations and incarcerated residents in the city. …

“So Dunn decided to try something different when she opened the school three years ago. She assumed many students would arrive with lots of physical and emotional needs, and structured the school to handle their issues in ways that regular public schools can’t. It took extra money from [Partnership With Children] and a small army of social workers, and the results are promising. The percentage of students reading at grade level climbed to 41 percent last spring, up from 32 percent the previous year, according to a widely used literacy benchmark. The number of disciplinary incidents during the same time period dropped by more than a third. …

“The struggling second-grader was immediately matched with a social worker who began seeing him individually and also met with his parents to help connect them to an outside evaluation of the boy’s possible learning issues. (Problems like ADHD and dyslexia must be diagnosed by a doctor.) To help shift his behavior, the social worker told him to write down every time he walked away from a conflict. After he avoided a fight five times, he got 15 extra minutes of basketball.

“Dunn also assigned him 30 minutes a day of one-on-one literacy help, which allowed him to improve his reading. …

“ ‘We work a lot with kids to be able to ask for what they need,’ said Dunn. ‘So kids know if you need anything, you just have to ask for an adult … if you don’t have a winter coat, we’ll find you one. When kids are acting out, a lot of time it’s because they don’t know how to communicate what they need.’ ”

More here.

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