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News & Views - Oct, 1993 Issue #24 

Young Adults 18 and Older

(The following is taken from the Brochure of Echo Springs Transition Center, in Sandpoint, Idaho, directed by Doug Kim-Brown, 208-265-0207. The ideas presented in this part of the brochure have some real substance, and so are presented here as an article in its own right. Echo Springs opened its doors on October 4th to help 18 year olds and older focus their lives, while still pursuing academic studies in an innovative curriculum.)

Some late adolescents, poised on the brink of adulthood, seem paralyzed, unable to take the leap to their life's next stage. Their fears are not baseless. Their culture, which makes much of the privileges of senior year and graduation, has in fact given them little self-knowledge on which to make important decisions.

They feel they should have arrived but are in fact nowhere. Often they've done well, or well enough. They've been tested, probably over tested, but unless they have been extraordinarily lucky and have had a rigorous teacher or coach, they have rarely been put to the test. Their grades have been inflated and they know that. Cocooned from true self-assessment, they have no clear idea of their strengths and weaknesses, no sense of how they will get by in the world, let alone succeed.

Nor are their fears about succeeding unfounded. 1993 graduates will retire in 2040. They can't even imagine the career fields that will burgeon during their working lives, let alone plan and educate themselves for those fields. Students now may have to prepare themselves for entirely new career-planning models: project-based employment, self-employment, cyclical employment, employment in virtual companies.

*A decline in grades or grades not commensurate with ability.
*Procrastination, disorganization, lack of motivation.
*Inability to focus on schoolwork or finding a job.
*A string of "Incompletes" on grade reports.
*A tendency to withdraw, to avoid making decisions about college and career.
*An inability to talk through issues with parents, friends, or counselors to completion. *An inability to reflect on issues, and through reflection, decide and act.

*Working in a sustained effort on something that will be evaluated thoughtfully and critically.
*Modeling effective relationships, to learn communication skills.
*Transcending their peer culture, to choose what is valuable from it, and look to other cultures for what they need.
*Learning goal-setting and completion skills and the satisfaction of accomplishment.
*Articulating their interests and values and learning the discipline of articulation--for much of the power in life is in the hands of those who can speak and write effectively.
*Succeeding and failing in contexts that are neither academic nor athletic, contexts that more closely match the worlds of adulthood. *Moving from being a passive onlooker to an active participant in their own lives.
*Learning to talk openly with other adults about the demands of the workplace, about sexuality, relationship, and marriage.
*Debriefing adolescence and setting the stage for adulthood.

Drawing on tools unavailable to traditional schools or colleges, the Center helps kids identify their interests, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and learn to use them in a variety of settings. It's a time away, a time to re-envision their goals in life without rebelling against or merely parroting those of their parents.

At Echo Springs vocational skills are an intellectual experience, academics are a vocation, and learning is an adventure. Students at Echo Springs will learn that they can accomplish what before seemed impossible. For many whose first response to a project would have been, "I can't do it," the Center will coach them to attempt it. Starting something new is the first step to realizing that they can do what once seemed out of their domain.

An adolescent's chief job is separation, and separation is a painful business. As many parents have bitterly learned, the pain of declaring independence is often expressed by teenagers as anger, not tears. For those teenagers stuck on the cusp between adolescence and adulthood, it's important for their parents, who are on their own cusp, to become part of the process.

The truth is that it is not just the teenager who is in transition. It is the entire family. Parents must be learners, too, and at this stage they must learn to let go, to free themselves of the illusion of controlling their children, to manage the transition from parent as authority to parent as influence.

A parent's job is how to acknowledge the separation, to accept children for who they are and not for their vision of who they are. When children leave the household for good, everything shifts. Parents have to reexamine their relationship with one another and with their other, younger children. Managed well, this process can be enlivening for everyone involved.

The Center is also time and space. Away from the pressures of home and school, out from under the hot breath of impatient parents, away from the mutual driving crazy of parents by kids and kids by parents, a new assessment occurs and new discoveries emerge.

Copyright 1993, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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