She wanted to dance, but then she changed
her mind. Fear of failing in front of peers is a powerful force.
Slowly, the desire to learn something new overcame the fear and she
agreed to try. The music started pumping. The instructor took her hand
and guided her through the basic steps of swing dancing. The whole
class came alive. The music and movement fascinated everyone. It never
dawned on any of the students that they were actually learning. They
were just enjoying themselves.
The reader may have jumped ahead and assumed that this story is
about the GT (gifted and talented) class at one of our high schools.
You are almost right. This scene was played out at the
Elm Street Center in Rogers, Arkansas. The alternative
learning environment for the Rogers School District. The swing dance
lesson was presented by Mike Nelson, Director of Keys To Safer
Schools. He was visiting the Elm Street Center on matters more closely
related to his profession of mental health therapist and writer of
behavior modification programs for alternative schools. But his other
skills were pressed into service by this resourceful staff and the
pleading of the students. This type of activity is far more common in
the GT classes, whereas the alternative classes are usually seen as a
place where kids learn to sit down, shut up and pay attention. At the
Elm Street Center, at risk students are offered a variety of
experiences that reward positive behavior and hold their attention.
|Freddie Jones, the Principal at Elm
Street, uses the BASIC
to reach his kids.
B is for
boundaries. Student are given strong and consistent boundaries, often
for the first time in their lives. A stable, orderly learning
environment is gained through strict adherence to school policies
regarding dress, language and classroom behavior.
A is for
attendance. Not only is being in school rigidly enforced, being
punctual is stressed, expected and given.
S is for social
skills. These students are provided the opportunity to learn skills
for life. Far more than dancing lessons, they learn the arts of
communication, problem solving, conflict resolution and decision
for intervention. Every student has access to a licensed counselor and
a master's level social worker. These trained professionals also reach
out to the parents and link school, home, community agencies and the
courts to insure that no student falls through the cracks.
C is for
community service. Involvement in the community is an integral part of
the Elm Street experience. As the students invest themselves into the
community, they develop a sense of ownership. They can volunteer or
apply for community service credit.
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