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The Learning Center
Academic Behavior Management

Helping Young People Learn Self Control

The Learning Center is a behavior management tool, which focuses on academic achievement and containment of inappropriate school behavior of the socially maladjusted student. This behavior management tool gives teachers a methodology to deal with behavior that is non-conducive to academic learning and classroom cohesion. The Learning Center is just that, a center for learning created as an outgrowth from the needs that are not addressed in both the Lab Cluster and the Special Education programs.

THE LAB CLUSTER, SPECIAL EDUCATION & MISDIAGNOSES

According to the 1999 federal department of Education guidelines, students are classified as Special Education if they are diagnosed with the following disabilities; Autism, deafness, mental retardation, hearing impaired, speech impaired, visual impaired, orthopedically impaired, emotionally disturbed or learning disabled. According to a 1997-98 study done by the consulting firm of Compass conducted by John Verre, there are 13,713 students in Special Education in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) and 1,039 students in the Lab-Cluster programs totaling 14,752 students out of a total BPS population of 63,762. This means that 23.14% of the total student body in the Boston Public Schools are in Special Education programs.

After reading a number of recent BPS student case histories from both the Lab Cluster and Special Education programs at Brighton High School and comparing them with case histories of mainstream, and "drop out" students; it was surprising to find that approximately 85 % of these students were diagnosed as either being "Emotionally Disturbed" or "Learning Disabled."

The 1999 Department of Education Federal Register defines the context of the term Emotionally Disturbed in the following manner:
(A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
(B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
(C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
(D) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
(E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
(ii) The term includes schizophrenia.
(iii)The term does not apply to children, who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance.

After comparing hundreds of case histories of students who are currently attending BPS Brighton High School (as well as those who dropped out) with these Federal Guidelines, virtually none of the students who were referred into the Lab Cluster exhibited the Federal Guideline characteristics. However, all of those students did fit under a rather loose umbrella of being emotionally disturbed. Upon analyzing the initial cause for their referral into the Lab Cluster, what actually emerged was the portrait of many students exhibiting Socially Maladjusted behavior.

While there are no Federal or State Guidelines for Socially Maladjusted behavior, the Socially Maladjusted student's narratives were identical, with virtually the same symptoms:
(A) regular use of profanities, cursing out teachers and peers,
(B) argumentative, constant talking, disruptive, disrespectful, rude,
(C) walking out of class, non-studious behavior,
(D) preventing teacher from teaching, many teacher/parent meetings,
(E) disturbing other students, being un-prepared for class,
(F) causing fights, threatening teachers or peers, physically striking teacher,
(G) many detentions, many suspensions etc.

What these symptoms actually revealed are two phenomenon: 1. The lack of correct parental instruction; and 2. The school systems inability to construct a corrective apparatus to respond to the Socially Maladjusted student. Other forms of misdiagnoses that designate students to Special Education and the Lab Cluster include classifying a student as Learning Disabled.

If we use the 1999 Federal Register from the Department of Education as a beacon for diagnoses and classification, very few of the hundreds of case histories of current Brighton high students would warrant them being classified as learning disabled. Learning disabled according to federal guidelines consist of the following;

(A) Visual-perceptual learning disability. Some students have trouble making sense out of what they see. They see clearly, but they cannot organize what they see into meaningful pieces or units. They can't put these units together, or take them apart, or analyze them, or reorder them, and they can't make sense of them. An example would be; "Imaginehowjohhnyfeelswhenhetriestoreadtheinstructions"

(B) Visual-Motor integration deficit. Is when a student can copy down the lesson from the black board but it is all a mess. The student hand is not doing as the eyes and brain instructs it. (C) Auditory memory deficit. A teacher may give a student three instructions one at a time and the student will perform them all perfectly. But, if the teacher give the student all three instructions at the same time the student will only retain only one, maybe two or none. This student memory processor simply can't hold enough words.

(D) Auditory discrimination deficit. The student cannot tell the difference between the "D" sound and the "T" sound. Receptive. The student cannot understand what people are saying to them, the language processor is broken.

(E) Expressive language. The student cannot produce language, which others can understand. The above classification rarely, if at all applies to any of the narratives, which I have read of the many students who are currently Brighton. But this last federal definition of learning disable surprise me by accounting for roughly 80 to 90 percent of the narratives I have read. The definition reads as follows; Learning disable occurs when there is a significant difference between a student expected achievement (ability vs. potential) and a student actual achievement. Also if a student is "two grades behind academically he/she are automatically classified as learning disable". How these students actually got behind is not even considered important, was the causation agent due to environmental, mental, sickness, attendance etc.

After reading as many students files as I have over the last two years, a clear and disntict picture has emerged as to what is happening to these students. The themes in the majority these student cases are the same. Most students who are referred to the lab-cluster or special education fall under this last definition of learning disable, and most of these students are referred between second and fourth grade, with the remainder being place during in middle school. What became apparent to me after reading each student case history was most of these students entered the first grade unable to recite or recognize all the alphabets. Unable to count up to twenty, unable to recognize and pronounce all of their colors, and most are unfamiliar with the concepts of phonics. Virtually none of these students were reading at a first grade level when they entered school, and academically behind is where all of these students are today. So what is clearly an education issue has been misdiagnose and placed as a special education problem. Students who do not perform successfully in grade school choose to conceal their academic deficits by acting out in class and thus were removed from the classroom, which caused them to fall further behind. The solution teachers and principles have chosen is to recommend that these socially maladjusted students receive more individuals and group therapy, while their academics and behavior skills got progressively worse.

Because it is mandated by law that we provide an education to these students, The Boston Public Schools have indiscriminately placed these students in the Lab Cluster because they have no other corrective measures at their disposal, thus creating a conundrum with The Lab Cluster, Special Education and the blanket of misdiagnoses


THE NEED FOR THE LEARNING CENTER MODEL

The state of the current classroom climate at Brighton High school is chaotic, disruptive, non-student / teacher friendly and with more time spent on trying to get teens to pay attention, and get the classroom to come to order than actual academic work going on.
As the Clinical Coordinator for Brighton, I talk to many students in the corridors and generally monitor all of their behavior as well as measure the pace of learning going on at the school. One young man, I was advising on the quality of learning as it applies to life told me that the professionals are spending all of their time on those who don't behave, rather than on those who are really trying. This prompted the development the rethinking of our current methodology, of allowing socially maladjusted students to occupy center stage in the classrooms, preventing students who are genuinely trying to learn from getting what they need. With the current deadline of 2003 quickly approaching and high stakes testing the result of MCAS, there must be an emergency system put in place to address socially maladjusted students and assist students who truly are trying to learn.

THE LEARNING CENTER AS A SPACE

The Learning Center is a series of classrooms, which are specifically staffed by teachers, clinicians and behavior specialist to handle any student who refuses to comply with the classroom instructor. The Learning Center has an academic focus and behavior containment component for implementation in all schools. However, it will be most effective if begun at the elementary level. The Learning Center is an educational support instrument with a primary objective to assist the teacher in creating and maintaining proper classroom climate during the pursuit of academic excellence. The Learning Center will simultaneously hold each student personally responsible and accountable for all of their non-academic behavior which occurred in the classroom they were removed from, which prevented other classmates from learning.

The Learning Center differs from both the Special Education and Lab Cluster programs because in those two programs disruptive students are either given time out, or problems solving strategies. This inadvertently removes the student completely from the learning experience. The Learning Center method keeps the student's energy and efforts focused on learning and not on non-academic issues. The student is not allowed to circumvent the learning process via the issues route. Once a teacher has asked that a student be removed from the classroom for non- academic behavior, the student proceeds to the Learning Center where he/she must complete all of their assignments, from all of their teachers for that day. There are no exceptions.

The Learning Center has Three Essential Principles:

(1) While assigned to the Learning Center the student must utilize correct language, there can be no profanity, street language, threats, or personal insults to staff or other students. The student must do the classroom work, which each teacher has assigned. If all of their assignments are not completed by the end of the school day, their time in the Learning Center is extended to another day, and then another, until all of the work is done. The work must be completed.

(2) Once assigned, the student does not leave the Learning Center for any reason, except to use the bathroom. The reason for this is simple - by being placed in the Learning Center, students now posses the identity of non-achieving academic students. What is the primary reason for a socially maladjusted student to be in school for six long hours when they are clearly unsuccessful academically? For this student, school is simply a place to come and socialize. This is why our current means of disciplining has no effect on the socially maladjusted student. Detention, suspensions, parents / teacher conferences are of no use - because socially maladjusted students do not value or respect education. The Learning Center uses what the student values and respects most as a device to force the student to correct their own behavior; and what socially maladjusted students value most is their ability to move freely and socialize throughout the school. The Learning Center makes these two freedoms a privilege and not a right.

(3) Finally, while assigned to the Learning Center there can be no incorrect physical behavior. If the student engages in temper tantrums, destroying school property, throwing desks, throwing trash barrels or actual fights, the student remains in the Learning Center at the discression of the staff of the Learning Center. Once the student completes their school work, uses correct school language and refrains from all aggressive incorrect physical behavior, then the student is permitted to resume his or her regular classroom rotation the next school day.

Another unique feature of the Learning Center is that it encourages teachers to come to the Learning Center later during the period to reestablish proper classroom expectation and behavior. This allows the disruptive student and the teacher to build a relationship based on mutual respect and agreed upon classroom behavior, rather than the current structure where the defiant student demonstrates respect for the clinician or behavioral specialist, but not for the teacher or the classroom.

This behavior/ academic approach keeps the impetus on the student learning and not on his/her issues, which are generally a shield to keep attention from the fact that the student is severely behind academically.

Another benefit from this system is it does not contribute to the student remaining out of the learning loop, their academic and behavioral issues are addressed and the student is put back on task quickly, and creatively.

The Learning Center approach will be most effective at the elementary school level because it will prevent young students from developing a socially maladjusted, non-achieving academic personalities. Using the three steps mentioned, The Learning Center neutralizes the tactics that students currently employ to get themselves removed from the learning arena. But most of all The Learning Center will provide teachers, principles, and support staff with a tool which to manage the socially maladjusted student.

THE NEED TO BREAK FROM TRADITIONAL PSYCHOTHERAPY

Psychotherapy, as a useful intervention tool which has proven to be quite valuable if the students has been properly conditioned and socialize, and has internalize proper social etiquette. Students who exhibit correct etiquette norms also posses an important character trait, which is essential for psychotherapy to be effective, and that quality is the ability to look inside themselves and reflect. The ability to connect to the inner-self along with self-awareness is critical if psychotherapy is to bring about the desired improvement in the student's presentation. Psychotherapy is the correct intervention if a student has been properly parented because the student recognizes that as a member of the society an adult is entitle to be spoken to and treated with dignity. We are asking psychotherapy to correct disruptive behavior which is not a character trait, it is a discipline problem based on the student never receiving proper social etiquette training from their parent(s). As mentioned earlier, reading scores of psychosocial reports has revealed that these students have received hundreds of man-hours in traditional therapy and their behavior is worse today than it was when they were first referred for therapy counseling. Psychotherapy as a intervention aid has failed to help approximately 85 percent of the students who have been in session. What psychotherapy has actually achieved is to affirm and validate for the student that his/her bad habits were justified because they had issues or someone or something made them mad.

What is quickly noticed from many teachers' comments throughout the psychosocial case histories is that these are the students who have been academically behind since they entered first grade. If you think about the first or second grader who is sitting in a classroom for six hours each day and is unable to comprehend or understand the information that the teacher is presenting, this child actually has no choice but to act out. The acting out actually becomes a shield for the student, preventing their fragile psyche from having to acknowledging the truth that they are not reading, performing math or writing on grade level.

Clinicians who cling to the issue driven paradigm do not recognize that these students are masking their academic deficiencies in socially maladjusted behavior. Nor do they recognize that these students use their therapy session as a tactic to avoid the rigors of academic pursuit. Clinicians or behavior specialists who do not fully understand the underlying dynamics usually respond to any intentional disruption caused by the student by simply removing the student from class. This solution actually exacerbates the student's academic shortcomings and causes the student to fall further behind. Once these students have lost connection with the correct student values, image, identity, student routine and respect for the classroom experience, there is virtually nothing a parent, teacher, or administrators can do to reverse this transformation process. There are currently 1,039 students in the entire Boston Public Schools Lab Cluster program, the Learning Center as an academic focus/ behavior containment model has started to reverse this transformation process with just 15 students at Brighton High School.

 

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