Avoiding Warehouses for Our Children: Proven Transition Programs for Struggling Students

When working with students who have significant problems, one issue we regularly encounter at Lakeside is parent’s distrust of our programs. As parents are given their first tour of our programs in action, they search for out-of-control kids, bars on windows, inadequate and ill-maintained facilities, poor quality of education, and so on. Much to their surprise, our facilities appear inviting and thoughtfully-designed, and our staff and programming professional. 

Take a peek at a program for students with significant problems

Lakeside Educational Network's Greenhouse Program
Lakeside Educational Network’s Greenhouse Program

We pride ourselves on providing an environment to students similar in quality to their public or private school. We add to that an academic staff who genuinely cares and is educationally qualified. We provide clinicians who are relational and trained to deal with student’s issues. 

Soon after their entrance into our program, our students realize that there is an entire therapeutic community surrounding them, intentional to promote growth, nurture development and head them on a path toward success. We have insisted that our students start their journey towards a goal-oriented transition the first day they enter our programs.

Where are the proactive options for alternative care?

Unfortunately, in our country, even when we proactively identify students who have serious emotional, relational or academic deficits, there are few options to provide the care that they really need. Thousands of students are unable to succeed in school because they are stymied by lack of options or solutions in the existing systems of care.  Somehow, we think it is acceptable to offer them less than what they receive in a “normal” school. Then we exacerbate that notion by expecting the students to succeed in spite of inadequate support, and the magnitude of their problems and (sometimes) multi-dimensional diagnoses. 

The reality is that struggling students need more intense academic support, behavior management, and clinical support. They would benefit from interaction with an entire therapeutic community of  staff who are both trained and competent to build relationship with them, who will help them through change and transition to their goals.

Struggling students need more not less relationships.

I have seen alternative schools built in garages, warehouses, old storefronts and actual barns. Even worse, I have seen programs that have tried to maintain these students with fewer teachers, very little counseling care, and a mindset that a student will always be in that environment with no hope for transition. Sometimes this unhealthy mindset is due to limited resources and priority for these vulnerable students. Unfortunately, some programs are simply designed to maintain students until they can magically somehow move on.  This is what I call warehousing.

It seems very simple, but most of our systems of care we build for these students are inadequate. A one-size-fits-all approach ignores the specific needs of the child and can drive the child into a further spiral of failure.

Once we identify mental illness, drug addiction, depression, ADD and ADHD (and many other diagnoses) in our youth-culture, shouldn’t we design programs that are directed towards their specific issues…Programs that can help our children and teenagers overcome difficulties and transition to successful lives?

A transition approach takes serious intentionality, with a focused effort from individuals who truly care and are qualified both with knowledge and in skills. Many times, it is a comprehensive environment that will enable them to heal safely and be able to practice their new life strategies in ways that support them as they grow with each new step.

Transition can happen within the framework of a school year.

At Lakeside, we have found that in most cases, positive change can happen in less than one school year. We have also found that most children and teenagers who have had the opportunity to get help are able to transition quite successfully back into their homes, schools and communities.  

As with any social issue, we have choices. 

  • We can do nothing, which means that we will continue to see tragic consequences in the lives of our kids. 
  • We can place them in warehouses where they can get some help, but will usually still have a lot of remaining, unresolved issues. 
  • Or we can create a vision for them in which caring people can help them overcome life’s obstacles, encourage hope, and transition them in in ways they most need. 

In my experience, the latter option gives them dignity at far less expense and residual cost than the other two options.  The “transition” approach speaks loudly to the values that we at Lakeside hold for our children and teenagers.   

Our society has many children and teenagers who are at-risk and need our support. I fear we may be rendered impotent just by the magnitude of the problem: the economic crisis and more prevalent shootings associated with staggering statistics and kids’ needs. 

In the crucial days ahead, it will be important for us to be involved in the lives of the kids that are in our care and to advocate for programs that will help them make beneficial transitions. These kids need help to contribute to our economy, communities, and families, as well as encourage a safe environment. 

I think it is essential that we put our kids back on the priority list right in the place where they need it most.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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