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Schools & Program Visits - Jun, 1998 Issue #52

Young Adult School
Redlands, California
Jayne Longnecker, Ex. Dir.
Lon's Visit: May 6, 1998 

It was a simple question, one that I routinely ask students at all the schools and programs I visit. I had asked how he came to be enrolled at Benchmark, but ten minutes into his explanation it was obvious I had made a tactical error and we had lost all chance of making a long story short. He was definitely not shy about telling his story, but neither were the other students I was meeting with who by then were displaying signs of long suffering patience. (It was obvious they had heard his story before, probably many times before). So a polite get to the point got us moving again and gave the other students a chance to talk. 

From their stories, it was obvious Benchmark is capable of working with young adults who had been in the habit of making some pretty poor decisions, and had started here with a good amount of initial resistance. (One of the reasons the first story was so long was he was itemizing all the stupid things that he had done as a preliminary to getting to Benchmark with a Judge's blessing and requirements). It was also obvious that the students felt safe enough in this environment to talk freely about past activities that I'm sure they would rather have just go away. Openness and honesty to a visitor is always a good sign of a sense of safety in a program. Most people assume that when a child turns 18, all leverage is lost and nothing can be done to help him/her until they specifically ask for help. This is for the most part based on the concept, which seems to have become prevalent in our society, that people won't do the right thing unless they are MADE to do the right thing. The proliferation of laws with strong enforcement clauses during the past few decades is testimony of how strong our societal belief is that people will not do the right thing unless they are MADE to.

Benchmark Director and Founder Jayne Longnecker is demonstrating the opposite. A program for young adults in some ways can have even greater leverage. This leverage is not based on the standard, I am the adult, you are the child, and you MUST do what I say. It is on the basis that for Benchmark students. We are your last chance for a future. This approach might not work very well for many 16 year olds who feel he/she has all the answers, and their answers have not yet been tested by reality. But a 19 or 20 year old has already had the opportunity to achieve considerable failure, and at some level it is beginning to dawn on most of them that the answers from their teen years are blocking their future. They tend to be ripe for a caring, sensitive and firm adult who doesn't put up with any funny business, and adults who are confident in the value of their own answers. The simple question, What's next? usually gets their attention, especially when they come to realize their answer is, Nothing! 

Benchmark averages about 40 students, ages 18 and up. They live in comfortable suburban apartments across town from the school, which are owned by Benchmark. This gives a balance between having some independence appropriate for their age group by having their own apartments, while the staff is still able to keep a good eye on the students. Room checks are regular, and there is no question that having a messy apartment at any time is unacceptable. This is one of four departments Benchmark is organized into. 

The two buildings (soon to be three) of the program itself is located in a fairly new industrial center, which eliminates potential problems from next door residential neighbors and handy hang-outs for young towns people, as well as providing low automobile traffic. This provides Benchmark a clean location, while also allowing them the ability to expand as their needs expand. Benchmark leases two buildings currently, and is just preparing to move into a third one to handle their expansion.

A second Benchmark Department is the Education Center, housed in a building which currently has most staff offices in it and rooms for groups, classes and other activities. The purpose of this Department is to meet the educational needs of each student. Flexibility is very important, and can include tutoring to complete High School, arranging for students to take college courses for certification or towards a college diploma, and individual and/or group sessions to work on personal issues and the consequences of past choices each student must face. 

Across the street is the Projects Department, a third department, which is a fully equipped vocational center. Every student has a minimum number of vocational projects he/she must complete in order to graduate from the program. Those are primarily woodworking projects with increasing difficulty as the student progresses, and provides students the experience of successful hands on experience. Success in anything is one of the most common lacks in the background of these students, and this provides a fairly easy way for them to learn that success is possible for them. The center also has the capability of providing basic training in wiring, plumbing, repair, etc, especially for those students oriented more toward the vocational rather than academic. For a working, active vocational center, it was better organized and cleaner than just about any comparable center I've seen. 

The fourth Benchmark Department is what is referred to as the Alternative Program. This is for those who just won't/can't do what is required in the regular program. When a student resists, sabotages, or otherwise will not do what is required to remain in the program, then Benchmark has this independent track. This consists roughly of finding the student a motel room (not the nicest in town), paying rent for a limited time, and providing detailed guidance in exactly what it takes to get back into the regular program. Their other choice, if they can't/won't work their way back into the program, is to get a job and support themselves, which also includes dissolving any relationship with the school. Since the student is a legal adult, the responsibility falls back exclusively on the student. The hope is that in this situation, the student very clearly and immediately sees the bleakness of their future, and so does the responsible thing. Sometimes it works. Several students have successfully worked their way back into the Benchmark program, motivated by the very immediate question of how they were going to feed and shelter themselves exclusively on their own. 

Benchmark was founded in 1993 as a transition program for those young adults who not only were struggling with becoming an adult, but were even actively resisting that final stage of growing up. I think a lot of their success comes from Director Jayne and the staff understanding very well the problems and issues of these students. To put it another way, Jayne has their number. The results are apparent. 

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.)

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