Sunday, October 19, 2014

What a school can do when it wants to

This was the title of the email that caught the attention of the author of the editorial of the September 30th Los Angeles Times edition.

The story you will read of what this school district did for Eunice might seem routine. Sadly it’s not. But today we will focus on the positive. “What the school has done for my daughter, you won’t even believe it,” says Sari Weiner.
Eunice, a 14-year old girl, spent most of her life in foster care before moving in with Sari Weiner two years ago. “The district spotted the talent in this bright but neglected girl and nurtured her so she can reach her potential.”
You may wonder, is that so exceptional? Isn’t that what a finely tuned educational system should do?
Eunice had attended 15 different schools by the time she was 12. Her elementary school record was full of failures and emotional outbursts. She was then placed in a special education class for disabled students. Last year she made the transition to general education. This year she’s enrolled in honors English, history and science classes. “The staff at Hale, a charter school, tutored, challenged, listened and encouraged Eunice in class and out,” Ms. Weiner says. “They learned to tolerate her moods and taught her to trust them. They know when to ease up the pressure and when to give her a nudge.”

Eunice’s teachers had apparently focused on her strengths and devoted a great deal of time, energy and patience to understanding rather than blaming and scolding her. A failure turned into success. Can you imagine what would happen if all teachers were like that? How many kids trapped in the gridlock of mediocrity and disdain could be saved from a permanent state of punishment and turned into productive and happy members of society?

I once heard the phrase “every child has strengths.” Visiting special education classes on a daily basis I can see firsthand how many children go through the system without anybody ever discovering their strengths. Some classes look more like daycare centers than special education.

I feel it is our mission to help these students triumph like Eunice, to become success stories. Passion and compassion have to be part of the recipe. Knowledge and experience are crucial too. Education has to be encouraging and motivating. Instruction for special needs kids has to be individualized. Lunch and recess have to be opportunities for learning self-help and social skills, and not break time for teachers and aides. Music, arts, audiovisual technology have to be the rule because these kids need an extra dose of motivation. We don’t have the luxury of losing them because of boredom.
Like water in California these days, every moment is precious, there is no time to waste.

Daniel Adatto, BCBA

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