A Better Approach for At-Risk Students - South Dade News Leader: Community News | South Dade News Leader | Miami Dade County

Not you?||
Logout|My Account

A Better Approach for At-Risk Students

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Friday, February 23, 2018 12:15 am

The Miami-Dade County Public Schools - Division of Educational Opportunity and Access embraces a holistic approach to address the causes of negative student behavior and assist with the emotional, social, health, personal, and career development needs of all students.  

As details emerge about the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, it is difficult to comprehend how one so young can reach a point of such violence. Among the questions are, could an intervention at some point have made a difference? If so, then what and when?

Miami-Dade Public Schools (MDCPS) is the fourth largest school district in the United States, with 356,086 students in 467 schools last year. No matter how we might wish otherwise, there has always been a percentage of any student population who are suspended or expelled. In a large population, even a small percentage nonetheless equals a large number of individuals. In seeking a better way to handle this reality, “Miami-Dade County Public Schools embarked on a bold effort to ‘Rethink Discipline.’

A progressive discipline approach utilizes a continuum of prevention programs, interventions, supports, and consequences to address inappropriate behavior and builds upon strategies that promote both positive student behaviors and school climate.” Essentially, “The New Picture of School Center for Special Instruction (SCSI) Implementation Model shifted the from application of punishment to providing an opportunity for skill building and behavioral changes.”

What does this mean in practical terms? Executive Director of the Division of Educational Opportunity and Access Deborah Montilla gathered a group for a conference call to help explain the range of programs. Luis E. Diaz, DEOA Administrative Director, Maria Molina, Outreach Specialist at a One Stop South Educational and Community Service Center, Daniel Wynne, Transition Specialist at a One Stop Educational and Community Service Center, Mary Castellon, Student Success Coach in the Homestead Student Success Center, and Raul DelVal, Success Coach and Creating Community Change: Youth Engagement Program Team Leader in Redland Middle School, were part of the conversation or contributed to the discussion.

All DEOA programs have the common goal of finding ways to reach students who seem unable/unwilling to comply with ordinary standards of conduct. In looking at eight middle schools where suspensions were high, it became clear that “one-size fits all” would not be the correct approach. “Our main goal is to assist students who will get lost in the system,” Molina said.

Each program has specific criteria and determining the best match for the student is an important first step. Workingwith the families is another component as well as structured follow-up. Students who are placed into a specialized program may return to their regular academic environment or in some cases, finding another school might be a better option.

The Creating Community Change: Youth Engagement Program (CCC:YEP) allows students to participate in hands-on service learning and civic engagement. Intensive high interest instruction, close supervision, and additional counseling are combined to enhance positive potential the student often masks or is perhaps unaware he or she possesses. One example was “C”, a 6th grader who struggled with his academic responsibilities along with trying to fit in with his peers. He had lost his mother at a very young age, had no father in his life, and was being raised by his grandmother. He was reprimanded on multiple occasions for breaking school rules. Enrollment in CCC:YEP in the 7th grade provided the opportunity for change and improvement was soon noted. By 8th grade, the improvements were such that at the end of the year, C. unanimously won the Gustavo Puig Memorial Award; an award given to the most improved 8th grade student in academics, attendance, and demeanor.

Castellon, who has her own classroom and curriculum plus counseling in a Student Success Center, has found in cases of altercations, “I bring them face-to-face to talk through the problem and that usually works.” Another situation she encounters is students who are LGBTQ and feel unable to discuss the subject. They frequently act out in school or reach the point where they contemplate suicide. “One male student who identifies as transgender has a goal to receive a dance scholarship. Initial counseling led him to vow never to need to return to the Success Center. Academically, his grades are great and through hard work and determination he wants to remain on the school dance team. He is currently receiving additional counseling through the LGBTQ group.”

The Secondary Student Success Centers (S3C) provides an accelerated technology-based experience for students who have fallen behind two or more grades. It blends small group and computer-based instruction. One student who struggled with low self-esteem and dealing with the emotional strain of an incarcerated father, benefitted from S3C. She was then referred to the One-Stop Educational and Community Service Center to help her transition back to middle school. In addition to educational services, counseling was provided with a local community-based organization. The student will be attending high school next year and has applied to a magnet program. She is looking forward to a fresh academic start and continuing with counseling.

Students entering the One Stop Educational Community Service Centers include those who come from the Juvenile Justice Center. These cases can be especially complex such as with a student who is the oldest in a large family. The family also became homeless, so earning a GED and getting assistance with job placement seemed ideal. The student began preparing for the GED and soon asked for help returning to a high school instead. One Stop collaborated with a local high school who not only accepted him but assisted him with getting involved in sports and after school activities. He passed his classes last year, attended summer school and made the football team. He is currently enrolled in school and academically successful.

The Educational Alternative Outreach Program has more than 40 specialized centers to serve approximately 5,000 students per year who are outside the mainstream of traditional school program. The five major types are Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), residential and day treatment centers, correctional detentions centers, drug/alcohol rehabilitation centers, shelters and specialized centers. A standard core academic program emphasizes improving student achievement, attendance, graduation rates, and basic skills. They also have pre-vocational classes, art, physical education, exceptional student education (SPED), and services to English Language Learners (ELL).

Teachers, counselors, and administrators who are part of DEOA passionately believe in the objectives to:

“Eliminate traditional outdoor suspension by providing alternative to suspension services

Utilize transition services in order to provide educational advisement

Provide strategic mentorship opportunities for targeted At-Risk Youth

Enhance innovative options that serve off-track students

Create community partnerships by collaborating with specific agencies”

Although not every student is a success story, the positive impact is seen in the many who go on to receive scholarships, attend college, or select the path of technical certifications and enter the workforce.

For more information and details, go to http://DEOA.dadeschools.net

Rules of Conduct

  • 1 Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
  • 2 Don't Threaten or Abuse. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated. AND PLEASE TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
  • 3 Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
  • 4 Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
  • 5 Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
  • 6 Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Welcome to the discussion.