An Innovative Approach to Help Troubled Teens

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April 30, 2012
 
BOSTON — The conversation about education reform these days often centers on No Child Left Behind or "teaching to the test." But an innovative technique is playing out about 30 miles north of the Massachusetts border, at Somersworth High School in New Hampshire.

The school has adopted a one-on-one approach between teachers and student to develop education plans and provide counseling and life advice. The results: more kids are staying in school and grades are going up.
 
Filmmaker Dan Habib documented Somersworth High in his new film, "Who Cares About Kelsey," a profile of a struggling student who went from failing classes and selling drugs to a dramatic turnaround.
 
One reason for the success of Kelsey and other students at Somersworth High is that the school recognized the need for treatment, not punishment.
 
"Disproportionately, disciplinary issues do come from kids who, often, have emotional disabilities or are at risk of dropping out," Habib said. "Sometimes acting out, having challenging behavior, is a very effective way of getting attention." Over the 4 years of the program, the school reduced disciplinary issues by 60 percent.
 
True, it takes a lot of work to change the way a school system operates, but Habib thinks it's worth it. Within a school, programs like Somersworth's improve the climate for all students and give teachers more room to teach — without having to spend time disciplining unruly students.
 
But more than that, school disengagement is a societal problem, Habib said. In his research, he found that dropouts in the Class of 2008 alone cost the country "$319 billion in lost wages over the course of their lifetime." Another study showed that increasing the rate of graduation for male students by 5 percent "we'd save over $8 billion a year in crime-related costs."
 
So when you change the education system, "As a country and as a community and as a state, you find it yields much more success in terms of human capital," Habib said.



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