Wednesday, August 3, 2011

School Districts Must Implement Multiple Intervention Programs for the Sake of Our Children, Parents, and Society


This is the first post in a series on why the Dept. of Justice and Dept. of Education must do more than just end schools rules that expel students who misbehave and what school districts can do to keep kids in school.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced the launch of the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, a collaborative project between the Departments of Justice and Education that will address the “school-to-prison pipeline” and the disciplinary policies and practices that can push students out of school and into the justice system. The initiative aims to support good discipline practices to foster safe and productive learning environments in every classroom.
While I admire their initiative to keep kids in school, their action must be accompanied by multiple intervention programs. This is a very long post, so I do hope you will hang in there and read it in its entirety because I think it will be very enlightening.

First, to understand why I believe in interventions as an essential companion piece with ending expulsion, I’ll tell you a little bit about my life. I was a teacher for about 12 years when I attended a three-day training to help teachers identify students who have addiction issues. What I had to look at, however, during the training was my own alcoholism and addiction. I came home from the first day and told my husband I was an alcoholic and asked him to pour out all the booze, which he did. He said to me, “You damn well better be an alcoholic because I just poured out $300 worth of booze.” I discovered later that the Director of the Student Assistance System (SAS) put me and my girlfriend/drinking buddy in the training, knowing we were drunks and hoping the training would serve as an intervention. Well, damn him, it worked. We both celebrated our 25th sobriety birthday together in April.

It’s about this place in my story when folks congratulate me, but I will not take any credit for my recovery. My 25 years is due solely to my Higher Power and Alcoholics Anonymous. Prior to my epiphany, every Sunday my family dragged me to small liberal church, hangover and all. One Sunday morning I prayed to God for help with my drinking. I didn’t want to stop drinking, just stop the hangovers. Two days later I was in the training and one week later, almost dead, I was sitting in a treatment center saying, “Hi, I’m Desert Crone, and I’m an alcoholic. (Words of wisdom: Be careful for what you pray for and never ever pray for patience.)

Anyway, after the director resigned a few years later, I was appointed to his position. I left the classroom and ran the program for five years. Dealing with addicted kids and their broken families is physically and emotionally draining, so I eventually went back into the classroom, knowing my experience would make me a better, more compassionate and empathetic teacher. (BTW the first students I taught are now 56 years old. Eeeek!) When you have battled alcoholism, nothing much else scares you. So when I went back into the classroom, I was a loud, persistent advocate for students. I took on fellow teachers who weren’t teaching, principals, and school boards. After I retired, I was elected to the local school board where I continued my advocacy for students, My missions as a student advocate is one of the reasons I decided to write this post.

But I digress. I went all out in making the SAS a formidable program that served as many students as humanly possible. Sometimes I went all out with reckless abandon, which generally got me in all kinds of trouble. Looking back on my directorship, I realize now I probably went into it too new in my sobriety. Water under the bridge . . . .

To give you an example of what is possible within a school district, let me explain the financing. First, the district had the most amazing superintendent for whom I have ever worked. He taught me how to write grants so I was able to secure $500,000 dollars to run the program. Most came from state grants and Drug Free Schools, but a small portion came from the district budget and the training and consulting fees I charged other school districts. From 1987-1993 I trained aides, teachers, secretaries, custodians, and administrators from southern Colorado to NM districts and even Oklahoma. I charged $400/day plus expenses. I also trained almost every single staff person in our district over a period of five years.

My staff consisted of one secretary and a therapist, my friend who shares my sobriety birthday. All three of us were and still are in recovery. In AA we believe in sharing our experiences, strengths, and hopes, qualities that made us effective with kids and their parents. They always knew we were not critical of them because we were like them. (Of course, an SAS program can be capably run by people in recovery.) I was able to operate with a staff of two plus myself because we trained staff to assess and place students in support groups and facilitate groups. The SAS was a K-12 program in a school district with over 4000 students so running it with three people was an extraordinary challenge, but it can be done.

By the fifth year, the program had identified and placed 750 students in support groups, such as Children of Alcoholics, prevention, anger, rape victim, recovery, in-patient and out-patient programs, and parents in parent support groups, and multi-family therapy groups with their children. Also, we had implemented K-8 prevention curriculum and peer training in all secondary schools. Whew! What a task to keep those going, but we did we enthusiastic help from a majority of district staff. After the first year as director, drug use had dropped by 18%, the only NM district that actually showed a drop in drug use rather than an increase. The drop-out rate dropped from 17% to 11%. By the fifth year the District showed even more significant drops in both.

Programs that prevent students from dropping out generally pay for themselves in just a few years. Since most states have student-based funding, the more students that stay in school the larger the overall budget. But, more importantly, such a program saves kids and their parents. Believe me, once you have saved a child, his/her parents become the greatest advocates for the district.

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