by Joy Jones
"Jerry" was a
teenager who hung out with the drug crowd at his school.
He wore the 'uniform' of the drug dealers - baggy pants,
hat on backwards, designer gym shoes. He used their
slang and speech patterns. If it quacks like a duck and
acts like a duck, it must be a duck, right?
Not always. In this case, Jerry had been taken from
regular school, and sent to The Foundation School, a
therapeutic special education school. Dr. John Meeks,
child psychiatrist and author of the classic text, The
Fragile Alliance, worked with Jerry. What he found out
was that Jerry had adopted the drug dealer persona but
did not use or sell drugs at all. So why the front?
"'How do you expect me to get chicks?'" he told Meeks.
"Image was so important to him," Meeks said. "I had to
explain to him there's more than one way to be a man.
There are other kinds of courage."
Trying to help students learn other ways and make other
choices is the mission of The Foundation Schools,
located in the metropolitan Washington, DC area and
which Meeks founded in 1975. Educators can gain ideas
from their approach in teaching students who have
emotional problems. The philosophy of The Foundation
Schools is to forge a therapeutic partnership between
the student and the adults who are educating and
treating that student. "An effort is made to bring the
child on board," explained Meeks who emphasized that
this requires a high level of collaboration and mutual
support among the adults. "We try to build an
interdisciplinary team that really cooperates with each
other rather than defends their turf."
He pointed out that "an experienced paraprofessional
often knows more than a first year social work student"
and that each school employee's role, skills and
knowledge base must be respected.
And of course, this respect is applied to interaction
with the children.
"Not only do the staff have to respect each role and
roles, but the student, too. " said Phillippe Dupont,
director at the Foundation School. "We respect the
Meek's experience has helped him identify several
educators and mental health professionals sometimes make
when working with youth. The first mistake is that
adults sometimes assume a student's bad behavior is an
attack on the teacher or counselor.
"'The kid is lashing out at me'," said Phillipe Dupont,
Ed.D., voicing what
a teacher or counselor might be thinking. "’They're
supposed to respect
me for my education or my teaching skills.’" Dupont
explains that the reality is the child is struggling
with his or her own issues and the adult's credentials
or concerns don't mean anything to the student.
Dupont recalled an encounter he had with a depressed,
girl who would come for counseling every week but would
just sit, uncommunicative, for the entire session. Only
after many of these mute, sullen sessions, she finally
began talking a little, then eventually opened up and it
was discovered that she was a fabulous writer. Dupont
reported that she later thanked him for his patience by
telling him, "You never gave up on me."
"The second most common mistake is to listen to what
they say rather than watch what they do," said Meeks.
Undoubtedly, you have experienced this scenario: a boy
is dribbling a ball in the hallway and the constant
bouncing is driving you crazy. You ask the teenager to
stop. But he doesn’t stop - at least not right away.
Meeks says that the teen's need to bounce the ball once
more is to show you they can't be bossed around. “The
adolescent then says, ‘I'm bored with this’ and stops.
Completely his idea.” Or so you let him believe.
"Hope is the crucial fuel", said Meeks. "Hope for many
children starts when someone believes in them.
"Gradually, the child begins to see that he can