Archive for Thursday, March 24, 2005

Attempts to reach out to ‘different’ students

March 24, 2005

My column two weeks ago was devoted to the exceptional student -- the one who stands out in the crowd and not always in a positive manner and is referred to as the right-brain student.

After re-reading the column, I realized that what I had said could be taken as a criticism of our public school system in dealing with children who do not fit the norm. I would like to emphasize that through the years, and often in this column, I have sung the praises of public schools. It is the one institution in our culture that we expect to do all things for all children. I also understand that here in Eudora we have many dedicated school personnel who sacrifice much of their own life and time to do the best for all kids.

Having said that, I would like to use this space to relate what I discovered from various sources which complement that earlier column and which I call the "rest of the story."

Here in Eudora we have several opportunities for kids both within the school system as well as for those who did not finish high school. For example we have the Eudora Community Learning Center, where those students who did not finish high school have an opportunity to earn a high school diploma.

In Superintendent Marty Kobza's words, the school "was started five years ago when it was apparent there were people in the Eudora community who could be in school but weren't."

Another example within our community that caters to the kids whose interests go beyond traditional classes is the Eudora-De Soto Technical Education Center, which offers training to high school students in culinary arts, auto collision repair, health career explorations, agriculture and graphic design.

On a statewide level for non-traditional students, but not particularly at-risk students, there are such opportunities as the virtual school where students are offered kindergarten through eighth-grade courses. There is a possibility that could be expanded to include high school classes. Virtual school students work mostly from the home where they are allowed to work at their own pace and are provided a computer to stay in touch with teachers, while working from books, worksheets, art supplies and other traditional materials.

A recent article written by state Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, which reported on happenings in the State House touched on the problem of school funding as it affects those who are the weakest link in our educational system.

Referring to the bill before the Legislature that concerns funding to K-12, Brown wrote, 'The plan answers the Supreme Court's concerns by increasing dollars going to bilingual, at-risk and special education students." In the midst of all the uproar regarding how we will support these "special" kids this is a re-assuring footnote.

Regarding the closing of the Alternative School in Lawrence, I was assured by a district representative that the resources that supported this program will be shifted to provide the services needed for its students to succeed within the mainstream. He also quoted Dr. Larry Lezotte, whose mantra "learning for all, whatever it takes" supports his personal belief that every child should be given the kind of attention within the system to succeed -- spotlighting the word all in the phrase, "Learning for all."

Another hopeful example for at-risk kids appeared in a recent article entitled "Programs Challenge Dropouts to Succeed" which explored a voluntary program run by Portland Community College in Portland, Ore. The program enrolls high school dropouts, kids who had walked out or been tossed out of their previous schools, those with attitude problems, behavioral problems, drug or alcohol problems, and kids whose teachers and families had often marked them off as hopeless losers.

Operating within a strict disciplinary code, they offer small classes where students form relationships and encourage and challenge each other to do well in a family-like way. The most amazing thing is that not only do they excel but "nine out of 10 continue in regular community college classes, working toward their diplomas and two-year college degrees."

Moving on to more individual achievements by kids who for whatever reason "march to a different drummer," I recently came across an article in a weekly magazine that featured a young skier and World Cup champion Bode Miller. Citing his many skiing achievements the article portrays a young man as being attuned to the esthetic aspects of his sport and not "who is not single minded" in winning. The article also states "He graduated to the elite junior skiing circuit, but not from high school when he didn't complete an assignment he regarded as stupid." Does that sound like a right-brain kid?

The last example of why saving each child and finding the student's potential or their interest was brought home to me in a story told to me about my niece. Early on, she was judged to be gifted but she had a "dreamy" attitude about most things and certainly about schoolwork. A caring teacher not knowing what to do with her hit upon the idea of a bribe. The bribe was a large roll of butcher paper, which she said my cousin could draw and paint on every day as soon as all of her schoolwork was finished. It worked, and she used that paper and that time to create her own stories complete with illustrations.

My cousin now works for Hallmark as a writer and an editor for the company's most successful line of cards. It's interesting how one caring and conscientious teacher opened a new world to a dreamy little girl.

Hopefully I have left you with a few positive examples that explore the rest of the story and confirm why we cannot afford to waste the talents of any of our young people.

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