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Posts Tagged ‘social services’

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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I blogged a while back about a prison arts program that seemed to help some offenders discover a more positive, less antisocial side of themselves. Today I have a similar story, this one from England.

“Allowing prisoners to take part in art [projects] can help cut reoffending rates in half, according to a report commissioned by the Arts Alliance. The group of charities has voiced concern that in tough economic times such projects may be cut.” Nick Higham of the BBC reports in a video clip here.

I admire people who have the faith in human nature to try to reach society’s lost souls with arts or yoga or meditation or any other enrichment.

My second cousin, Alex, went to college in Cambridge, Mass., and did an internship teaching meditation techniques to some serious cases at the Suffolk County jail. She loved it and was inspired to go to graduate school and work with others in trouble.

Her mother tells me her latest internship is with a social services agency an hour and 20 minutes away. “She is managing several extremely challenging cases and spends a lot of time making home visits in dismal housing projects. Her days include fighting for housing for her clients, calling the police when bruised and beaten women answer the door, mediating confrontations between single moms who are managing 3-9 children and school officials who won’t let a child ride the bus due to behavioral issues. Her clients have been victims of domestic and other forms of violence and most have substance abuse issues. Her job is to find resources to rehabilitate troubled families. She is learning fast how to be the ultimate problem solver, confidante and counselor.  Most of all, she is extremely happy and energized by the challenge.”

I am in awe that this tough work makes Alex happy and energized. We are lucky to have people like that on the front lines.

 

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