Wayne State University
Dr. Bob Pettapiece
123 Main Street
Detroit, MI 48200
I am currently a teacher in an alternative education program that services ninth and tenth graders who are at risk. Our program has been very successful in helping many of our students, but we also have a percentage of our population that is unsuccessful in remaining in school. I have always been interested in exploring what happens to our students once they leave our program, and what options are available to them. That was the first goal I had in mind when starting this directed study. My second goal was to spend some time working with kids that are not at risk so that I could make some comparisons between what is happening in the lives of seemingly normal teens compared to the teens that I deal with on a daily basis. During the fall and winter of the past year I completed 75 hours of volunteer work that would help me accomplish these goals which, to state were:
Josi is a Family Service worker for the state of Michigan. Her basic job description is to work with families so that they can keep their children in the home, if this does not prove to be possible she is responsible to place the children in foster care or in a program that can accommodate the needs of the child. This may be a short term or long term arrangement. There are always conditions put upon the parents and children for the child’s return to the home. If the parents/children are successful in meeting these requirements then their children are returned to their home. If they are not the children may be permanently taken from the parent’s custody. It is Josi’s job to make sure the children are appropriately placed and that they remain in alternative care until the court deems they can return to their parents. While I was with Josi we visited three programs that house and educate children while they are not living with their parents. Overall the programs tended to be very strict in there rules and schedule. The teens were required to attend an onsite school and to contribute to the overall success of the program through chores and other responsibilities. In speaking with the site managers I learned that some of the teens in their programs had problems with truancy but it was primarily because of extremely difficult home situations that they were placed there by court order. Many of the clients in these programs were also placed there because of neglect and abuse charges brought against their parents by the state.
While I was with Josi I also spent quite a bit of time doing home visits with the families of the children she was servicing. The majority of the homes we visited were run down and I was surprised to find people living in them, from the street they looked abandoned. The conditions inside the home often mirrored the exterior of the house. It was an extremely sad experience ? to see people living in those conditions in America. My students at school do not come from the same type of environment so the connections were hard to make, beyond the obvious. If you live in poverty with drugs and abuse as your surroundings it is difficult to have the foresight to see that education is important. Crime is not seen as a vice and there are few jobs that pay well without an education.
The Transitional Living Program (TLP) is a program that is sponsored by the state and houses homeless teens. The teens may stay in the program for up to eighteen months. While they are there they must work and go to school, 60%-80% of their income is put into an escrow account and saved for them until they leave the program, by which time they should have saved enough money to get started in their own apartment. While teens are living at TLP they are also required to continue they’re schooling, whether through a GED program or regular high school. During the time that I was volunteering at TLP I explained my goals to the administration but I also told them I wanted my time to be useful to them as well. As it turned out I spent the time I was there revising handbooks, manuals and documents that they needed to have proofed and revised. The work I did for them was helpful to them but it did not allow me to interact with the teens in the program. I was able to sit in on two initial interviews but the information I received was of very little use to me in regards to my goals for this class. It was interesting to see the program because it is an option for teens that find themselves in a difficult position but it was not informational beyond that.
The last place I volunteered was a church. I have a theater background and they were looking for someone to help direct a play and do some writing with their teenagers. I thought it would be a good opportunity to have some positive interaction with teens and also help me with the hours I needed to complete so I offered to help. It turned out to be the most rewarding and useful part of my directed study. My responsibilities were to help the kids write a play, learn their lines and then put on the show. While I was working with the teens I had the opportunity to develop relationships with them and learn about their lives. Out of the twenty that I was working with sixteen were involved in extra curricular activities at school in addition to being at our play practice once a week and being actively involved in the youth group at the church. Out of the twenty, eight were on some kind of honor roll at school and seventeen said that they had strong relationships with their parents.
In the end my goals were only half met, I did see some programs that are available to kids who are not successful in school but the programs I saw were not available to the general public, they were primarily placement programs for kids who were in trouble with the law or had severe home problems. I was successful in spending time with kids who were not at risk and what I learned was that they had strong families and activities that they were involved in that helped to keep them out of trouble. There were very valuable components to this process; namely it gave me a larger perspective on the work that I do with my students. I believe it was important for me to spend some time with kids who are in an even more difficult position then my students, and to spend time with kids who have had more success then my students. The overall result I believe was to renew my interest and passion in teaching at risk kids.