News & Views - Jun,
1998 Issue #52
by: Wendy Hayward, Educational Consultant
There seemed to be two groups at the recent Small Boarding School Association
Conference, administrative personnel for traditional independent boarding schools, and those for schools and programs serving emotionally
and behaviorally challenged students. A major discussion at the conference was for the need for clarification on several questions
concerning transitioning of students from one to the other. Thirty years ago, there were only three programs for emotionally and behaviorally
challenged students in the United States. Today, it seems a new program is opening its doors every month.
To work from the Directory Places for Struggling Teens published by Woodbury
Reports Inc. which includes 70 schools and programs pre-screened for quality, in 1997 there were over 7,000 students enrolled in these
schools and programs. This includes over 2,000 in short term wilderness programs. This means there are between 3,000 and 5,000 students
completing schools and programs for struggling teens each year looking for follow-up schooling (these numbers do not include the large
number of schools and programs which are not yet added to this particular directory). A successful follow-up school does not need
to especially have any kind of emotional growth curriculum, but just needs to be sensitive to their experiences.
Who should be involved on the transition team when a student needs to
continue their education at an independent boarding school?
Initially the sending school’s staff, including the director of residential
life, team leader or family head, teachers, psychologist and other pertinent staff, would complete a recommendation for success that
outlines the strengths, weaknesses, program and academic needs of a student. These “forms” should be completed by each person and
brought to a staffing meeting, at which time the group would discuss and agree upon the recommendations. This recommendation may then
be utilized by the family’s educational consultant, and by the receiving school in conjunction with academic records to provide an
in depth profile of the student. The educational consultant should have ONE person at the sending school and ONE at the receiving
school they may contact for further information (academic records, testing results, recommendations, etc.). The school that is receiving
and/or considering the application of a student from a special program needs to include their director of residential life and/or
the dean of students as part of their intake process. This in- house committee should work closely with the educational consultant
and/or the sending school representative. This will encourage a dialogue concerning the student’s appropriateness for the receiving
school and to assure the student’s needs are met.
The goal is to provide a positive and successful experience for the student
and the receiving school. Independent schools should discuss openly and in-depth the issues surrounding the acceptance of students
from special needs programs. Questions such as: “Do we have the appropriate staff?” “Do we have mentors for these students that are
knowledgeable and willing to take the time to help such students?” “Does the school have access to outside services of a psychologist
or therapist if needed?” “Is the non-academic time and activity time at your school structured or unstructured?” “Are your dorms safe?”
The success rate for a transitioning student will be higher if the communication
is open and honest. The staff at the receiving school needs to be familiar with the student’s needs. The student needs to be involved
in this process, agree to the parameters and understand the consequences. Although it is difficult to set up an interview date for
the student to visit the school, most schools will allow students a short leave to visit one or two schools during their last three
months, prior to program graduation.
Do independent schools want to accept students that have a history of
drug and alcohol abuse, and emotional and behavioral problems?
First, honestly ask these questions of the staff. “Do we already have students
that are in non-compliance with our rules for smoking, alcohol, drugs and cheating?” “Do we have the staff, programs and procedures
to assist our students that are experiencing emotional or behavioral difficulties?” “Does hazing or sexual harassment of students
by students occur on our campus and in our dorms?” “To what degree are there problems?” “How are we dealing with the problems?” “Do
we have an agreed upon plan of action?”
If your campus is safe, the rules and consequences are clearly understood
and followed through on, then accepting an academically appropriate student from a special needs program is appropriate. A graduate
of one of these programs is generally well equipped to deal with problems appropriately, make excellent friends, are leaders and are
comfortable with positive confrontation and constructive criticism. They have learned to deal with interpersonal issues (such as those
that arise in dorms), in a positive way, understanding that the goal is for all sides to understand the issues and come to a consensus.
Keep in mind, these students are coming out of a completely structured environment.
An environment that has clear and concise boundaries, structured time management and consequences based on actions. When students
arrive at one of the programs their lives and thought processes are in chaos. Initially, the structured environment provides a set
schedule, from wake-up to lights out, and safety for the students and the campus as a whole. As students move through the program
they take on more responsibility, learn to make positive choices and to be socially responsible. When they graduate from a program
these students are ready to re-enter society. To place them back into an environment without structure, without safety and strong
adults and peer mentors, and one where students are getting away with the same behaviors that they have spent up to 2 1/2 years unlearning,
the student is at risk of failure.
What about transition programs for special needs students?
At this time there are only a few programs that have been specifically designed
for transition. One of the primary concerns or dilemmas is that the student would have to change programs or schools again after they
completed the short-term transition program. Most of the students have attended two or more schools before being enrolled in a special
needs program. If the independent school decides not to accept the student until they have completed a transition program, two problems
arise. First, the student has generally not had time to become vested in the transition program. Secondly, the student will have two
years or less to become integrated into the program at the independent school. Students tend to not become involved with other students
and school activities because they know that they will only be there a short period of time. These transition programs deal best with
students that have a year or less of high school left before they receive a diploma.
What are wilderness programs? How can they work in conjunction with an
independent school to help a student in trouble?
Wilderness programs are highly structured, back to the basics, outdoor education
programs that challenge students to learn more about themselves emotionally and to push through their fears and accomplish goals that
will test their physical endurance. It also teaches students how to live, work and socialize appropriately as a team, and how to be
There are different types of wilderness programs. Many such as Outward Bound
(TM) provide summer and semester programs for students and adults that are interested in a challenging physical and emotional experience.
Other programs provide wilderness experiences and/or workshops for parent(s) and child, business groups, organizations and schools.
Certain wilderness programs specifically serve teenagers that have been making poor choices to teenagers that have been violent. Some
students attend these programs and return to their regular schools, while others will move into longer term special needs programs.
One of the wilderness programs that is working with independent schools in the New England area is Summit Achievement. They will take
referred students that are on suspension, provide academic tutoring in their subjects and return them to the school providing direct
follow-up and a recommendation plan. This 3 to 6 week “wake-up” program has been successful for Summit Achievement and for the independent
schools that utilize their program.
Parents choose private schools for a variety of reasons. The smaller class
size, more individualized attention, a safe “home away from home,” a strong academic and athletic program, learning to live with others,
etc. In today’s world the primary reason is safety. A place that does not condone drug and alcohol use, violence or sexual misconduct
and will teach social responsibility. Students in independent schools prior to the 1960’s were required to take courses in ethics,
philosophy and world religions. This in conjunction with an honor code, structure and a dress code helped young men and women to set
a personal value system. Dorm parents and dorm meetings were also an intrinsic part of a student’s life on campus. Students had a
variety of activities to choose from, however, it was not a choice to do nothing. Being a dorm proctor or a member of student government
was an honor that was earned.
As we move into the 21st century it is necessary for schools throughout our
country to honestly evaluate what is not only best for the school but what is best for the students. It is no longer appropriate to
excuse children for smoking, drinking, drug use, sexual misconduct, hazing or harassment by saying “boys will be boys” or “girls will
be girls.” To those schools that have implemented plans to deal with these problems and admit they do occur at schools across the
country, congratulations! Students learn not only from teachers, but, from dorm parents, friends, gardeners and the many others they
come in contact with in their daily lives.
These children are the future and we must all work together so they may live
and learn in safety, have value and self worth while they move toward being socially responsible citizens. We as adults must lead
the way. The staff and teachers within our schools must receive training on an ongoing basis. As adults we each bring our own emotional
baggage with us. Faculty mentoring and care are an intrinsic part of a school’s health as is the manner in which we treat each other
and the students. It is the sum of the parts that makes a whole. If some of the parts are flawed, need to be replaced or just updated,
then just do it! Contact other schools and inquire as to what works or doesn’t for them. The wheel rarely has to be recreated, just
modified to better serve your needs and those of the students.
Copyright © 1998, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced
without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)