So, last year, someone from Methodist Home for Children, asked me to write an article for the magazine, Spotlight. I did. It took a few months to get it edited but when it was finally published, I was pretty happy. It was on page 8 in the summer of 2016 issue. It might not be a book but it’s something I got published.
I did have a lot of help with it, from someone who knew how to word things better than I did, for the audience the magazine is sent to. Every family, program, employee, church supporter, and financial backer gets the magazine. That would be thousands of people across our state and beyond. You can view it on the website https://www.mhfc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Summer-2016.pdf or below. Let me know what you think.
Here it is:
Leaps in Learning
By Melissa Pasek, N.C. licensed teacher in the Chowan Multipurpose Home
Some come straight from the detention center, bound in handcuffs and shackles. Others come from home, accompanied by a mom or dad. Still others may not have seen parents or siblings in months. But they all come to Methodist Home for Children to change behaviors that are escalating toward serious delinquency or crime. As a teacher in the Chowan Multipurpose Home, it’s my job to help teens catch up academically. Our classroom is set up in the living room area and, on any given day, I might have eight students in my class — with one who reads at a third-grade level sitting next to another working at a 12th-grade level. I might have one student who came in with report cards and a specialized Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and another who arrived with no records at all.
To sort it all out, MHC teachers create a baseline score for each new student using the Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT). WRAT scores are grade-equivalency scores with the highest, 12.9, representing 12th-grade achievement in the ninth and final month of school. In the absence of reliable records, these scores are especially helpful in uncovering a student’s strengths and weaknesses — weaknesses which may be rooted in learning difficulties or behavioral and emotional problems like defiance and anxiety. Six to eight months later, when the teen is ready to leave our care, we give the WRAT again. By comparing scores, we can see that students are significantly better prepared to succeed in school, improving by more than one grade level in reading, spelling and math.
Teens come to multipurpose homes as repeat juvenile offenders, and they’re often behind grade level when they arrive. It’s the job of our five on-site teachers and staff to help them catch up and shed bad habits — and standardized test scores show they’re succeeding. Last year, 86 percent of youth performed at grade level when they left our multipurpose homes, up from 65 percent when they arrived.
Here are a few teens who’ve made me proud lately(names have been changed for protection)
Sam, a seventh-grader, came to the Chowan home for repeatedly skipping school. He was a smaller kid, and he craved attention. Every time I turned around, it seemed he was there, asking if he could write on the chalkboard or help out in some way. I came to discover he needed constant affirmation, and he didn’t get much at home. He was so eager to please. In six months at the Chowan home, Sam’s confidence grew noticeably, and by the time he left us, he’d increased his WRAT scores by multiple grade levels: Word reading: 5.4 to 10.3 Sentence comprehension: 9.9 to 12.9 Spelling: 12.7 to 12.9 Math: 5.1 to 5.9
Montana: Often we have youth who come to us with psychological and neurological disorders. I expect the same hard work from all youth, and I teach them not to use their disabilities as excuses. Montana, a ninth-grader, suffered from anxiety, and it seemed to be triggered by everything — playful teasing by her classmates, fearing that others were talking about her, being corrected in public by staff. She was terrified of speaking in front of the class. Over time, I was able to show Montana that she knew more than she thought she did, and her participation slowly increased. She started out timidly raising her hand and, when she would get an answer right, you could tell she felt encouraged. She went on to make a presentation for health class, selecting a chapter from the textbook and teaching it to the others, and she was first to volunteer to speak at our annual graduation ceremony about her experience. After about six months, she improved her WRAT score in math from 8.7 to a 12.9 and finished with a 12.9 in every category.
Jasmyne: Two or three times a year we get a low-functioning teen. Jasmyne was a ninth-grader who arrived without any information about her disability, but early testing pointed to learning challenges and some anxiety, especially in her math score. I tried to treat Jasmyne the same as other students during class and helped her build confidence through one-on-one projects. Soon she learned she could do things she’d previously been told she couldn’t and her WRAT score improvements were remarkable: Word reading: 3.5 to 7.4 Sentence comprehension: 6.5 to 8.2 Spelling: 5.1 to 6.8 and Math: k.0 to 10.1 While we’re glad to see WRAT scores improve, we’re even more excited when we learn that former students are doing well in life. Montana, for example, completed her GED and is working at Piggly Wiggly.
Others go on to college, and some have qualified for higher education funding and mentoring through our Hackley Education and Learning Program.
These young people show us that court-involved youth are capable of changing behavior and achieving success in life. ■ 9 SPOTLIGHT SUMMER 2016