A Perspective from our Parent/Student Surveys
by Judith E. Bessette, EdD
Over six years ago, Woodbury Reports began collecting surveys from parents who had placed their children in private, parent-choice special needs residential programs. As part of my role as Research Affiliate with the organization, I spend time reviewing and analyzing the more than 450 surveys that have now been submitted. Occasionally, the respondent is a former student, but more often than not, the surveys are completed by parents or guardians. If you are a parent (or former student) let me encourage you to add to our knowledge base by completing a survey. To complete a survey online, just Click Here -- it's easy to do and your experience may prove invaluable to another parent.
Having spent some time recently reviewing the surveys that have now been completed by parents and former students, the word perseverance kept coming into my mind. I decided to pursue this line of thinking to see where it took me. Let me say that these responses were not scientifically selected and we use a number of open-ended questions that are not easy to evaluate and rate. However, there are patterns that emerge - and we try to make meaning of those patterns to better inform our readers.
The dictionary defines perseverance as the steady adherence to a course of action in pursuit of a goal - despite difficulties, obstacles or setbacks. Synonyms for perseverance include tenacity, persistence and pertinacity. The American Heritage Dictionary, which offers commentary on words as well as definitions, suggests that perseverance implies a praiseworthy sort of patience. It's unlikely that most kids who are enrolled in emotional growth or therapeutic school are ever described as having a praiseworthy sort of patience - or of even having any goals - by those completing their application forms.
Conversely, most of the teens who graduate from such programs have, in fact, demonstrated perseverance - despite the difficulties, obstacles and setbacks that no doubt occurred during the course of the program.
One of the last questions in the survey asks the respondent to rate the overall experience and effect of the program. We use a Likert Scale with ratings from 5 to 0. A rating of 5 stands for Very Effective; 4 means Very Helpful; 3 - Helpful; 2 - A Little Helpful; 1 - No Positive Effect and 0 - a Negative Effect. I wondered if there was a relationship between overall ratings of the therapeutic school experience and the notion of the student's ability to persevere - that is, to complete the work at the school or program in question.
Of the 332 surveys that rated the overall experience as a 3, 4 or 5, only 39 students left early - or - did not persevere. Of the 116 who rated the experience at a 0, 1 or 2, a whopping 78 left early. (For those of you who don't like to do the math…that means that in the good to glowing rating categories, just 11% of the students left early while in the less than adequate to negative ratings, nearly 70% left early.)
So, what can we glean from these numbers? It occurs to me that a student who stays the course - who perseveres - might have a better experience than a student who leaves early simply because he or she stayed. It's important to remember that the benefit of these programs does not result in progress that is linear - that is to say that attending 50% of the prescribed program does not necessarily mean the student now has 50% of the benefit. In fact, in many cases the full benefit of these experiences may not be fully realized until well after graduation!
We'll never know if the 0 - 1 - 2 ratings from the surveys regarding any given student who left his or her program early would have moved up - to a 3 or 4 or even a 5 - but it may be that the platitudes we heard growing up… finish what you start, that patience is a virtue and just don't give up are grounded in what turns out to be good for us all.
So, to the teen who says I can't take this anymore or I'm just fine leaving early - I've learned all I need or to the parent who says but five more months seems so long or but she's doing so well, based on the results of our surveys, I say consider the value of perseverance. While there may be situations where leaving a program is the right course of action, that decision needs to be carefully weighed against the benefit of the steady adherence to a course of action in pursuit of a goal - the goal of completing a program in spite of difficulties, obstacles and or setbacks.
As Vince Lombardi once said, "It's not about the number of times you fall down, it's about the times you get back up and keep going."