“Children Need Advocacy and Support, not Ignorance and Punishment” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Not a day goes by that I am amazed and disappointed by the lack of insight and support that many people have regarding children.  Even in regard to people who one might believe are trained in child development and education may be completely oblivious to realizing that their words and behaviors are unsupportive of, and in many cases, detrimental toward children.  What children in our world need – especially those who may have special considerations, including disabilities – is advocacy, understanding, and support rather than ignorance, misunderstanding, and punishment.

When people in child development, education, and other fields are rigid and unbelieving about the needs of children – and who, in fact, do not have an understanding of children that is in the child’s best interests – children suffer in many ways and can be placed at great risk in many cases.  In medical and healthcare fields, individuals are supposed to do their best to ‘do no harm’ and adhere to the Hippocratic Oath.  While the medical field, however, often practices from a perspective of illness, the counseling field strives to recognize people from a view of wellness.  An illness or disease is not the person; but rather, it is the person who must be supported in a view of wellness in order to improve or recover from illness.

Educators, child care specialists, and others – including parents – need to have a wider view of what is best for children.  In cases of highly contentious and adversarial divorces, for example, psychological evaluations and/or assessments of the parties involved, may be ordered by a judge.  In such cases, by today’s standards, these reports, typically made by an unbiased psychologist, provide judges and attorneys with a more clear perspective of family relationships and parenting.  Thus, people in the legal field recognize that they may not have the training needed to make such unbiased evaluations.  They rely on psychologists to ethically and professionally perform them so that the best interests of the child are maintained.

Unfortunately, and to the detriment of children, not everyone recognizes that they do not have the insight or training needed to work in and make decisions that are in the best interests of children.  From my knowledge and experiences regarding many schools, particularly those in the South, individuals in education are quick to punish, including for minor issues, and may not realize that they do not have the insight necessary to best support children and do what is best for children.  Exercise as punishment (such as being made to walk or run laps outside, including in high temperatures) and lengthy detentions (including 30-60 minute lunch/recess detentions), particularly for insignificant issues, and issued toward children, do not resolve, but compound issues, making children potentially distrustful, disrespecting of, and hopeless about school officials.  (I know of at least four schools in my immediate area where these are practices.) 

These situations are compounded and worsened regarding children who have special needs.  Sometimes, it appears to be the children and/or parents who are blamed in situations in which school officials promise support and accommodation to such children, however they may just be going through the motions and not adequately or effectively be meeting such needs.  And, punishments toward children have been shown in research to be ineffective; truly, they may only serve to increase distrust and resentment in children toward adults who are supposed to have their best interests in mind, but who, in fact, do not.

In some situations, an array of psychological evaluations and assessments may be provided to educators that address children’s special needs – and parents may inform school teachers and leaders about what is best for their child – however, for whatever reasons, school teachers and officials may simply be ignorant about such needs, may not follow the suggestions of professional evaluations or parent recommendations, and may completely misjudge the situations.  Doing this places some children with special needs in greater danger and at higher risk for worse outcomes and situations at school.  Through the school officials’ own lack of insight – and in some cases – lack of compassion and motivation to learn, grow, and develop – children are, in fact, harmed by their ignorance and lack of support, and in some cases, are blamed and punished due to it – the pitfall of blaming the victim.

When children with special needs are not sufficiently, nor positively accommodated in schools, great risk and danger may be imposed upon them due to others’ ignorance.  To some people, what is clear and obvious in certain situations goes completely unrecognized – and therefore, not at all addressed – in others.  What is worse in these situations is when people who are ignorant about these situations categorically deny that they have occurred and escalate already tense situations that may involve high emotions.  Such lack of insight and understanding reflects not only their ignorance, but their rigidity, inflexibility, and absolute refusal toward even having an interest at gaining any increased understanding about the issues or situations.  

Even those most highly-trained in supporting children may sometimes miss critical pieces of information, however this should be an indication to others that as much training and information is needed to enlighten themselves to children’s needs and what is in children’s best interests.  Additionally, because there is often the tendency in people to desire to perceive issues and situations in an optimistic manner, there should be an awareness of this so that critical issues about others are not missed and do not turn potentially tragic. 

In short, particularly when it comes to educating children, it is not acceptable to be clueless about and not practice what is in their best interests.  And, situations that are detrimental and potentially tragic to children that occur out of the ignorance of educators and school officials should not be escalated – but diffused – in the best interests of children. 

In my book, perhaps schools in which ignorance and a lack of support prevails toward children may be performing okay with some students, but they may also be harming those students who are most at risk.  Such characteristics, policies, and/or the lack of policies of schools become dangerous to children when people in education do not even realize that what is occurring is creating a potentially harmful or tragic situation for children.  Parents must be acutely aware of and insightful about such circumstances in order to advocate for and protect their children as much as possible, particularly in schools where everyone may not be on the same page about what is best for children.

“Completed Suicide Risk Highest Within First Six Months After Incomplete Suicide” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Child mental health is becoming an area of ever-increasing concern and research, including within the area of child sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that lead to suicide.  Recently, within the past two months, I had opportunities to visit a large metropolitan hospital in Atlanta at which mental health care is provided on an inpatient and outpatient basis for people of all ages.  I primarily made observations in the children’s mental health unit in which children from ages 4-12 were hospitalized as inpatients.

Since making my observations, I have done much research in the area of medicine and counseling related to depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that ultimately ends in the suicide of the victim.  I have also consulted with many professionals in these areas, including pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed professional counselors.  Further, I have communicated with school teachers, school administrators, school mental health professionals, school system administrators, and religious about these issues.  This blog article will share some of what I discovered related to these critically important issues in mental health care.

At the hospital in Atlanta at which I made my observations regarding inpatient child mental healthcare, the most significant part about it that was very noticeable was that most of the children were boys.  On one particular day, there were 16 children housed in the unit, and 12 of them were boys, with the majority of the boys being African-American.  Of the girls present, the majority of them were Caucasian.  It was also my understanding that the majority of the boys were hospitalized due to suicidality (and/or other mental health concerns related to it, such as depression, anxiety, and/or sexual and/or physical abuse or neglect).

To me as an untrained observer, I found this to be very significant because my personal expectation was to observe there to be a greater number of girls than boys present in the unit.  Because there were significantly fewer girls than boys present in the unit over a period of several days, it became important to me to understand the reasons for it.  I got to thinking about several possibilities to explain this reality.

Perhaps girls are more open about their feelings and experiences, and/or a depressed or otherwise upset mood in girls may be more visible to others.  Perhaps boys are keeping their feelings too much to themselves due to the societal and cultural expectations for them to “be a man,” and thus, not to show their feelings.  Possibly, adults were unable to recognize signs of suicidality or depression in boys compared to girls.

Further, it may be possible that adults did not view boys’ depression or suicidality to be as serious as that of girls until a crisis point was reached.  Culturally, it is also significant that most of the children housed in the unit were African-American boys.  Specifically related to cultural or ethnic differences, I do not yet have particular potential explanations for this.  Additionally, perhaps there are other general explanations and reasons that I have not thought of for there being significantly more boys in the unit than girls.

As I stated previously, since the time of my observations of the children’s mental health unit in the metro Atlanta hospital, I have researched several issues relating to child mental health, and I have consulted with many professionals in the field.  In a study completed by Cynthia R. Pfeffer (2001, p. 1057), she stated that during prospective follow-up into adulthood of children at risk for suicide showed that a “history of sexual abuse (RR: 5.71, 95%; CI: 1.9-16.7) imparted the greatest risk” for it.  Reading this was saddening and disheartening for me because it appears that most suicide attempters and commiters have internalized their pain and suffering, are taking it out on themselves, and appear not to be able to successfully cope.  They were hurt, have lost hope and trust, and are now hurting themselves, possibly in efforts to make the painful memories disappear.  For them, suicide seems to be the only answer for removing and escaping the emotional pain.

In a study by Stanley, Brown, Brent, Wells, Poling, Curry, Kennard, Wagner, Cwik, Klomek, Goldstein, Vitiello, Barnett, Daniel, and Hughes (2009, p. 1005), the researchers reported that individuals who attempted incomplete suicide are at the greatest risk for repeat attempts and/or actually committing suicide within the first six months following the incomplete attempt (as this study particularly relates to adolescents, aged 13-19 years old).  This is extremely important to understand because those who are untrained in this area do not understand the seriousness or severity of it, or are, perhaps, in denial that the situation is serious or severe.  Regarding children, I believe this particularly applies to those in education, including teachers, administrators, and other staff because they are not equipped with the knowledge and understanding about the manner in which to best support students who have been suicidal.

And sometimes, those adults in education who are bullies toward children truly have absolutely no understanding or compassion toward students who made an incomplete attempt at suicide because they simply do not seem to care.  In fact, those type of adults may even do more damage to the child through their insensitivity and failure to understand the situation by being even more punitive or retaliatory toward the student because the issue is one with which they, themselves, are unable to successfully cope.  It remains easier for such adult bullies of students in education to bully, blame, and revictimize the student victim.

Also unhelpful are the student peer bullies with whom the suicide attempt survivor must cope.  Student peer bullies of the victim seem to bully the survivor even more because they are aware of the emotional vulnerability of the survivor, and they capitalize on that because it makes them feel good.  Therefore, in a school environment in which bullying goes unchecked, unresolved, and not corrected, suicide attempt survivors are at an even greater risk for a future successful suicide attempt because they experience bullying from adults and peers.

Additionally, O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock (2012, p. 15) reported in their study that “psychotherapy did not reduce the risk for suicide attempts in adolescents in contrast to adults.”  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) further reported that “psychotherapy did not reduce suicide attempts in adolescents at 6 to 18 months” into a suicide prevention treatment program.  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) also stated that “psychotherapy had no beneficial effect on suicide ideation beyond usual care” in adolescents.  These findings are shocking, disturbing, and disheartening, particularly when there may be the extant societal belief that counseling and psychotheraphy benefit individuals with emotional disturbances and/or self-destructive ideations.  If psychotherapy is not beneficial to adolescents who have attempted suicide and/or who have suicidal ideation, what benefit is psychotherapy to children who have had similar experiences and/or beliefs?

A professional friend of mine who is a psychiatrist provided me with an article written by a women who is a sexual abuse survivor, and who was hospitalized on three occasions throughout her life due to depression and suicidality related to her traumatic experiences.  The article, “How ‘Person-Centered’ Care Helped Guide me Toward Recovery from Mental Illness,” by Ashley R. Clayton (2013), was extremely helpful to me in better-understanding what is going through someone’s mind when they are hospitalized for a mental health crisis.  The article was further assistive to me because, as a graduate student in counseling who is working on my second master’s degree, it was important for me to perceive and understand the great value of Person-Centered Therapy in counseling suicide and sexual abuse survivors.

Because so much hope and trust has been lost in survivors of sexual abuse and suicide, it is obviously critically important for others, including mental health professionals, to be as sensitive and supportive as possible of them.  The author shared that she experienced the greatest improvement through the person-centered approach and caring relationship that a particular nurse developed with her.  This is something important for me to remember and put into practice in my own counseling of trauma survivors.

Further regarding children’s mental health in relation to surviving trauma and suicide attempts, as well as those areas in relation to children’s school attendance, I spoke with two pediatricians regarding the issues.  Both pediatricians took the issues seriously, however, they did not desire to take responsibility for children who were suicidal because they stated they were not trained or highly-experienced in those areas.  Both pediatricians also desired for parents to work with the expectations of schools, even though such expectations, stresses, and pressures may be too overwhelming for some children.  Regarding the experience of child sexual abuse, both pediatricians believed that counseling was needed for child survivors, however they both believed that medication to manage the child survivors’ moods were necessary as long as they believed the child was “functioning.”

For me, the perspectives of both pediatricians – both of whom are Caucasian women with many years of experience in pediatrics – were discouraging in many areas.  First, both doctors appeared to be very quick in the desire to refer suicidal patients to other medical professionals.  While that has advantages and disadvantages, it places those at risk in the position of believing that their doctors are unable to properly care for or understand them.  Both also believed that child survivors of sexual abuse need not be medicated if they were “functioning.”  I believe that it is one thing to survive, and quite another thing to thrive.  Merely “functioning” is not fully living or thriving, to me.  And also, both pediatricians appeared to also be too quick to go along with schools’ expectations for students, including maintaining the same academic and/or disciplinary standards for students who are trauma survivors.  As an individual who is an experienced teacher, I know that students have different learning styles; placing everyone in the same category is detrimental to those who have suffered trauma.

Both a psychologist and a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with whom I consulted about difficult, damaging, challenging, and/or overly stressful and overwhelming school experiences of child trauma survivors both believed that people in education are or may be unable and/or unwilling to change in a manner that is more supportive, understanding, and compassionate toward them.  The psychologist believed there is not likely any school that would be able to meet the needs of a child who is a trauma survivor.  And, both the psychologist and the LPC believed that schools are part of the problem in not successfully supporting and understanding trauma survivors and their needs.  Those who are in education – perhaps including school counselors and school psychologists – may be unequipped in schools at being able to fully or successfully support children who are trauma survivors; this can and does have devastating effects on such children.

Of all those in the medical and mental health fields, I believe those who are most fully trained and equipped to successfully both treat and understand trauma survivors – in particular, those who have experienced sexual trauma, depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts – are psychiatrists.  Psychiatrists are in the best position to provide urgent and necessary medical and mental health care to suicide attempters, including hospitalization, evaluations, medical care, and medications.

I assume that the psychiatrists are those who most often see patients who are suicide attempters; and they see them at their lowest points, emotionally.  Therefore, psychiatrists who truly have what is best for their patients in mind seem to help suicide attempters and trauma survivors become stabilized and recover as quickly as possible.  Psychiatrists are in a wonderful position with their patients to be supportive, understanding, and compassionate; and to inform and educate society, in general, about the medical issues and needs experienced by suicide attempters and other trauma survivors.

In communicating with several people who are education professionals regarding survivors of sexual trauma, suicide attempts, and bullying (both by peers and adults in school), I have largely encountered  biases against the survivors, as well as an incredible absence of sensitivity toward them.  Such refusals of understanding, sensitivity, and compassion toward survivors by the majority of education professionals with whom I communicated can possibly be attributed to a lack of or refusal toward being educated and informed about the needs of the survivors.  Such outright insensitivity by the education professionals – the majority of those who were insensitive toward survivors were administrators – could also be attributed to a denial about the seriousness or severity, or fear due to stigmas or the unknown, regarding the issues related to survivors.

In some situations of communicating with administrators, upper administrators, and school psychologists of schools and school systems related to student survivors of sexual trauma, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I also encountered not only insensitivity and a lack of understanding toward the survivors, but also inconsistencies in their behaviors toward them.  In most school and/or school system administrative personnel and school psychologists with whom I communicated, I encountered adult bullying by them toward the child survivors that was sadistic.  In such education professionals, it appeared that their incredible harshness toward the survivors was something that they wanted to occur, regardless of the outcome or effects that may or may not have resulted in actual suicide.

In other situations in communicating with education professionals about such survivors, however, I encountered empathy, compassion, understanding, and sensitivity toward them.  Such supportive actions were those exhibited by other particular school system administrative personnel and/or educators and counselors.  Such desparities in the treatment of survivors by various school personnel reflects that education professionals must be on the same page in order to consistently understand and support, as well as be compassionate and sensitive toward survivors.  This appears to be direly and desperately needed in education in order that students who are trauma and suicide attempt survivors receive the greatest possible support and understanding in their educational environments.

Therefore, it was personally extremely shocking and disturbing to me in a life-changing manner that some of the very leaders of schools and school systems not only do not support said survivors, but are actually bullying and sadistic toward them.  In these situations, I believe it would take not less than a miracle to convince such individuals to even consider a different and more positive and understanding perspective toward said survivors.

In regard to particular religious leaders with whom I have communicated about issues related to survivors of child sexual abuse, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I have – thus far – experienced their compassion, kindness, and prayers toward survivors.  I have also learned, however, to carefully choose which religious to approach; not all religious are as understanding and supportive as others.  And, I am further aware that there are those religious who would take such information and use it against the victims and/or survivors in order to revictimize them.  Presently, however, that is not what I have experienced in my recent and present communications with particular religious about these issues related to survivors; and I am thankful for and relieved about that.

I believe that society has come a long way in supporting and understanding the experiences and needs of trauma survivors, including those who have experienced sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, trauma, bullying, and suicide attempts, however there is still much more progress to be made.  Those who best-recover from traumatic experiences are those who have positive, stable support in their lives.  Stressful and overwhelming situations are serious set-backs that only cause them to regress, and to continue not to hope or trust.

It is so critically important for sexual abuse survivors and suicide attempt survivors to have the consistent and unconditional support of those around them, including family members, community members, those who are in education, and others.  Without such support, compassion, and understanding – and, in fact, if the survivor experiences the opposite of those – he or she could make a future suicide attempt that is successful.  Such tragedies are avoidable and preventable if everyone practiced more patient, respect, appreciation, and compassion toward each other, particularly trauma survivors who have attempted suicide.

References

Clayton, A.R. (2013).  “How ‘Person-Centered’ care helped guide me toward recovery from mental illness.”  Health Affairs, 32 (3), pp. 622-626.

O’Connor, E., Gaynes, B.N., Burda, B.U., Soh, C., & Whitlock, E.P. (2012).  “Screening for and treatment of suicide risk relevant to primary care.”  Annals of Internal Medicine, pp. 1-22; pp. W-1 – W-5.

Pfeffer, C.R. (2001).  “Diagnosis of childhood and adolescent suicidal behavior: Unmet needs for suicide prevention.”  Society of Biological Psychiatry, 49, pp. 1055-1061.

Stanley, B., Brown, G., Brent, D.A., Wells, K., Poling, K., Curry, J., Kennard, B.D., Wagner, A., Cwik, M.F., Klomek, A.B., Goldstein, T., Vitiello, B., Barnett, S., Daniel, S., & Hughes, J. (2009).  “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for suicide prevention (CBT-SP): Treatment model feasibility, and acceptability.”  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 48 (10), pp. 1005-1013.

“Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

It is very upsetting, discouraging, disappointing, and disturbing when one approaches another to seek improvement in and/or resolution to a particular matter, and the other person contributes to being part of the problem by not being understanding or supportive about it, rather than being part of the solution.  I experienced this several times, already, this week in relation to school situations.  The person for whom it is most upsetting and disturbing is the child who directly experiences it.  It is always discouraging to experience situations in which the words and behaviors of school employees are part of the problem.  It is encouraging when their words and actions contribute to solutions.

When a family is spending more money on a private school education for their child, they expect more in every area.  Expected is more support, more understanding, more sensitivity, and at least, fairness, particuarly in situations about which upper administration and administration are informed, regardless of by whom they are informed.  Expected is a positive experience for their child.  Expected is fairness, without bullying of the child by either peers or adults.  As one often finds, unfairness and a lack of sensitivity and understanding may be the norm.  Such a norm should not be tolerated or accepted by anyone, nor experienced by the child.

Therefore, people – particularly those in education who work with children every day – can be a part of the problem or a part of the solution.  I much prefer that they be part of the solution, and that it be a positive solution at that.  Situations in which a particular child is repeatedly blamed for standing up for himself or herself to peer bullies who belittle and degrade him – especially in a Christian environment that is supposed to promote Christian values – are particularly frustrating. 

Worse is the educator and/or administrator who can say nothing positive about the child who has stood up for himself or herself, and instead, always finds fault and harshly punishes the child.  Such educators and administrators should be ashamed of themselves for their repeated unfairness, for repeatedly supporting the bullies.  Never do those child bullies receive any consequences for their actions; their words and actions are repeatedly supported.  The victim of the bullying is repeatedly blamed.  Psychologically, this is the blaming of the victim routine.  Unnecessarily, it typically happens to the same child or children who stand up for themselves to the bullies.

It was the same for me when I was in school.  A bully provoked, and provoked, and provoked, and finally, when I stood up for myself, I was blamed and punished by school officials.  The bully who provoked the situation received no consequences, and behaved as though she was the victim to garner more support.  The same types of situations occurred toward my parents and other family members when they were in school.  School should not be a place in which people experience bullying, however it is and has been throughout generations.

I try to teach my child to be patient with others, that when others bully or provoke him, it is their problem.  However, it is difficult and challenging for any child to tolerate or accept being bullied.  In a Christian environment, with a Christian background and upbringing, I try to teach my child to turn the other cheek.  However, others typically perceive those as weak who are patient, kind, and who turn the other cheek. 

Unfortunately, and from what I have found throughout my own life experiences, the most productive way to cause a bully to stop bullying you is to give the bully back some of their own medicine.  For people who are kind, nice, caring, and compassionate, it completely goes against one’s personality to do so.  However, in doing so, the bully typically leaves you alone after that.  They discover that their perception of you was incorrect.  They discover that you have surprised them by standing up to their bullying, to their provocations, to their harsh words and actions. 

I want the best for my child.  I want my child to enjoy going to school.  My child receives and excellent education, however I repeatedly encourage the practice of increased sensitivity, patience, positive reinforcement, support, and understanding.  I do this every year.  Some are more supportive and understanding than others; some will never change. 

There are few who hold the high standards that I do of being caring, compassionate, patient, supportive, sensitive toward, and understanding of children.  To those few, I deeply appreciate you; you are part of the solution.  However, it is those who refuse to see and practice a different and better way who are part of the problem, who contribute to the regression and/or detriment of the child. 

Those who are part of the problem, rather than part of the solution, should not be in education.  They are not positive role models for children.  In this day and age, we desperately need more and more positive role models for children.  So, when are things going to change for the better rather than for the worse?  Positive change and a reassessment toward needed support for children who are repeated targets of bullies is imperative – it is imperative!  Fairness and support are imperative, rather than unfairness and a lack of support!  It is exactly this type of unfairness and lack of support that leads to bullicide – the suicide of students who are bullied, by peers or by adults.  By then, it is too late, and another life has been tragically lost.

Therefore, I encourage each of you to be positive role models for children, and to always be part of the solution – whether in education or any other area – rather than part of the problem!  Be a positive role model for children.  Be open to thinking of saying or doing things in a different and better way.  Be sensitive toward, and considerate, understanding, and supportive of children, for the sake of their mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and physical well-being!

“Georgia’s SST Process is Supposed to Help, not Hurt Students” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Instructional Materials

Instructional Materials

In Georgia, schools have what is called “Student Support Team” or “SST” to assist students who are struggling with academics, behavior, and/or socialization in the classroom.  In my experience as a public middle school teacher in Georgia for six years, I found that the SST process was extremely helpful and supportive to students, especially when I was the teacher leading and/or otherwise participating in it.  My experienced education mentors in the DeKalb County School System near Atlanta taught me the process and ensured that open-mindedness was maintained in helping and supporting students with every possible intervention for which they qualified, based on their academic, behavioral, and/or social needs.  In public schools, one also had to maintain caution about not suggesting supports and/or interventions that the parent would not consider because the school system (as is true of all public school systems, to my knowledge) did not desire to pay for services that it was unable to offer.  In the private school setting, however, the SST process is extremely different and potentially much less supportive than that in public schools, which I will compare here.

“Georgia SST teams had their origin in a federal lawsuit known as Marshall vs. Georgia (1984). It dealt primarily with disproportionate placement of minority students in Special Education. While the state prevailed in this case, a shortcoming in Georgia education became obvious: there was no standard process for students to obtain individualized help in the regular classroom for learning or behavior difficulties.  Instead, the route to such help usually led to placement in Special Education, often involving removal from the general classroom.  As part of its commitment to federal court to remedy technical violations found in the trial, the State of Georgia mandated that a Student Support Team would be established in every Georgia public school, K-12. The court accepted this commitment, thereby making the SST mandate a permanent injunction” (Block quote from: State of Georgia Department of Education, 2011).

In my experience as a public school teacher in Georgia, I would estimate having led and/or participated in many dozens of SST process team meetings for my students.  Whenever any of my colleagues and/or I identified areas of deficiency and/or potential improvement for students, the students were referred to SST.  SST is a type of support for students that identifies and monitors areas and/or other characteristics of the student in the school setting that could be improved.  For example, a gifted student who has straight As in all subjects except for math – and who is failing math – can be referred to SST for support and monitoring.  Also, a student who has recently maintained average grades, but who has become withdrawn, is failing, and is at-risk (of dropping out of school) can be forwarded through the SST process.  And, a student whose behavior is inappropriate, unacceptable, and/or dangerous, and who is failing due to his or her behavior can also be referred to SST.  Additionally, a student who is pregnant and who is expected to be out of school for awhile due to giving birth can also be referred to SST.

In my experience in teaching public middle school students around Atlanta, Georgia, the SST process was always helpful on each and every occasion.  Public school educators are very interested in assisting and supporting students so that they will be successful, and/or so that they will improve in the areas in which betterment is desired.  I can say that the educators with whom I worked, including myself, were always consistently interested in helping and supporting our students as much as possible.  We went above and beyond in doing what we could, within legal guidelines for public school educators, in suggesting out-of-school supports, as well as in providing and implementing in-school aids to support increased success and learning. 

Some of the actions that were implemented by public school teachers for students through SST to aid them include moving the student’s desk closer in proximity to the teacher to better assist in maintaining the student’s attention; providing extended time to complete assignments and/or assessments; giving individualized verbal and written instructions and/or directions (in addition to addressing them to the entire class); breaking up larger assignments into smaller parts; providing more positive feedback, incentives, and reinforcements; providing increased follow-up, monitoring for progress, and/or redirection to students for whom it is needed and/or helpful; pairing students with those who are good mentors and/or role models; etc.  There are a great many more interventions that can be provided in the classroom, as well, including giving the student leadership opportunities in class; providing the student with more opportunities to speak and/or ask and answer questions; calling on the student by name; maintaining a positive, nonjudgmental tone with the student; not “guilting” a student because he or she is unable to understand and/or complete work; and giving students opportunities to be more mobile in class.  All of these interventions and more are those which my colleagues and I implemented for students with whom we were involved in the SST process.

In contrast, I can also describe a perfect example of how the SST process has broken down and has seriously emotionally and/or academically-injured and/or failed a student, including the generation of risk to their health and life.  I believe that because educators, administrators, and/or counselors and psychologists in private schools are unfamiliar and inexperienced with the SST process in Georgia because they have not been required to utilize it and/or there has been little to no oversight or enforcement of it in their school systems, that it is not nearly as effective as the process implemented in public schools.  Or, perhaps school employees in private schools may deliberately mishandle the process, purposely jeopardizing students’ health, life, and/or academic success.  Public school teachers in Georgia utilitze the SST process to assist students all the time; private school teachers and other school personnel appear to perceive the SST process as a last resort and something to avoid at all possible costs.  Even for those students who may need, require, and/or benefit from the SST process in private schools, there is a great lack of it’s utilization in the private school environment, as I have observed.

In relation to the particular student whom I will call Carl, he is an elementary school (grade 3) aged child who has regularly achieved high grades and is an honor student, academically, behaviorally, as well as in character and values.  Carl’s standardized test scores are extremely high, with his average academic functioning ranging between grade 5 to 7, and his overall academic functioning ranging between grade 3 to grade 10.  Carl’s socialization might benefit from more positive interactions and opportunities for positive, small group cooperative work with his peers, however he has had prior experiences that have understandably-caused him to be cautious of his peers and others.  Carl could also benefit from increased follow-up, attention, reassurance, and positive reinforcement from his teachers, as well as greater open-mindedness toward utilizing and implementing supports that will better aid in Carl’s academic success, reduction in stress, and increased happiness and confidence at school.

For Carl, it would have benefited him for his teachers and/or school to have instituted the SST process immediately upon their observation of him requiring additional time to complete his assignments and/or assessments.  They provided accommodations to Carl for a period of six months prior to nearly all of them being removed by the school psychologist, against the many suggestions and evidence provided by an outside professional who completed an outside evaluation of Carl.  It’s not that Carl is unable to perform extremely well on all of his work, it’s that he simply needs some additional time to complete it.  Therefore, what happened was that extended time was provided for some time, and following an outside assessment, nearly all extended time was removed, even though the professional who completed the outside assessment repeatedly recommended continuing the extended time accommodations, and identified – through a valid evaluation – that Carl’s processing time was lower than average.  Basically, the evaluation that was completed addressed only reading and math, and not language arts or writing.  Simply based on the reading and math results of the evaluation, the school psychologist of the private faith-based school removed nearly all of Carl’s extended time accommodations, without having any concrete evidence to do so in his other subjects. 

School Books and Assignments

School Books and Assignments

In my experience, removing accommodations already in place without evidence to support the need for their removal is simply not done and is unethical.  To remove nearly all of six months worth of accommodations placed Carl at significant peril in many areas of his life and development.  In all of my experience, accommodations are only removed when the student shows progress in being able to be successful without them in place.  Accommodations are never removed if they will hurt the student in some – or any – way.  In Carl’s situation, nearly all of his extended time accommodations were removed, and it was literally like the rug being pulled out from under him.  Again, the professional who completed Carl’s evaluation repeatedly stated that the extended time accommodations was needed and warranted.  The school psychologist who interpreted the professional’s evaluation removed nearly all of the accommodations that were in place to help support Carl in maintaining success. 

The school psychologist would rather remove accommodations already proven to help and support Carl, and require additional evaluations, rather than keep supports in place that have aided in his success.  The school principal also likely prepped the school psychologist for the outcome that was desired, and that is what occurred.  Further, school leaders always speak of wanting a partnership between home and school, however when situations such as this occur – when accommodations are removed that have been proven to assist the student in his success – it reflects that there is no partnership, and instead, there exists an adversarial relationship.

Following the removal of nearly all of Carl’s accommodations by the school psychologist, he began failing many assignments and/or attaining low grades on them – not because he was not capable of doing them well, but because he was unable to complete them.  This, therefore, placed extreme and unnecessary stress on Carl, and led to a crisis situation.  It, therefore, appears that the school psychologist and even perhaps other school leaders are more interested in removing supports to assist students, rigidly adhering to curriculum requirements that students may be unable to attain without extra supports, and essentially and literally placing a nail in a student’s coffin by removing supports that have assisted them. 

Rather than understand and support an outstanding student such as Carl as much as possible, why would a school psychologist remove supports for him that have been proven to assist him in his success?  Why would a school psychologist prefer to create a crisis situation for such a wonderful and outstanding student, when there is no evidence to support the removal of accommodations already in place?  Does the school psychologist prefer that Carl fail?  Does the school psychologist intend for Carl to experience a crisis or worse?  It appears so.

In this situation, the SST process at this private, faith-based school has failed Carl, and caused risk to his health and life.  Worse than negatively affecting his grades, assignment completion, confidence, and mood, it caused a crisis situation that could have led to Carl not being here today.  Is curriculum of greater importance than a child’s life?  Is educational rigidity and a lack of understanding of students more important than supporting and helping them as much as possible to be successful and happy in school?  Are private schools not to be held accountable for assisting students with success through positive (rather than negative) endeavors of the SST process?  In this particular situation, this certainly appears to be the case. 

When a related issue of parentally-requested school support of Carl be completed for him – and it was not – the issue went before the school system’s superintendent, who cited her support for curriculum, policy, and the privatization of the school system, preferring those areas to the support and well-being of Carl.  When school leaders succumb to intellectual blindness related to denying support, success, well-being, and lives of their students, such school leaders cease to be effective.  School leaders who are also unable to cope with constructive criticism and honesty, and who are either unwilling or unable to provide simple support, understanding, and compassion to students – particularly children – have the potential for being more destructive than constructive. 

In order to be productive and progressive, schools and school leaders must be open-minded to all perspectives and philosophies – even the ones they don’t like to hear – in order to improve and in order to best-serve and benefit the students.  School leaders, particularly those in upper administration, must also use their intelligence and insight in order to model, understand, and believe what is true and correct – as well as remain ethical – rather than allowing themselves to be poisoned by inaccurate or false information provided to them by those whom they manage. 

There are some school leaders who are open-minded and effective because they listen to and consider the issues of their customers, however there often seem to be many more who do not listen to, nor consider serious issues because they do not approach the issues with open-mindedness and without prejudgment and bias.  Leaders of the former-type are most effective because they always have the best interests of the students in mind.  Regarding the latter-type leaders, their purposeful ignorance and/or “fix” to the issues may only contribute to further problems and a worsening of the issues.

Students in all schools in Georgia – not just those attending public schools – must be afforded the positive support that they need through SST and the SST process.  Removing supports that were put in place to assist the student, and doing so with no evidence that the student is able to perform as well without the supports, unnecessarily injures the student, placing the student at risk for further injury.  Hopefully, people who have been entrusted to support and help students will do so, rather than playing with their intellect, emotions, and lives as if they are unimportant and unvalued.  Hopefully, such people will do so before it is too late.  But, then again, some people never change.

References:

State of Georgia Department of Education, 2011.  “Student Support Teams (SST): Structure and Process” (p. 4).  Retrieved on March 3, 2013 from   http://archives.gadoe.org/DMGetDocument.aspx/SST%20Guidelines%20Final%209-16-11.pdfp=6CC6799F8C1371F62BDB7AD6F76A3052D9E5ABE36C978EDD135479A5CF0628D1&Type=D

“What Benefit is There for Third Graders Serving One Hour Detentions?” (By Michele Babcock-Nice)

In how many schools throughout our country do primary and/or elementary school students serve detentions?  For that matter, how many second and/or third graders throughout our country are required to serve 30-60 minute detentions for rather minor issues?  How many of you adults ever served a detention at all in the primary or elementary grades? 

I am a person who believes in nurturing and supporting children, positively – as positively as possible.  I recall that when I was in school, I served one detention.  The detention that I served was when I was in high school for talking excessively in chorus class.  That detention was one that I served after school in study hall for 45 minutes. 

Today, primary and elementary school students are serving detentions of 30-60 minutes.  I fail to see the benefit of such severe disciplinary consequences on such young children.  Issuing detentions for situations such as when a student is talking without permission while walking in line with the class in the hallway, to me, is overly severe.  Such disciplinary consequences do not allow children to be children. 

In the best-behaved children, receiving such a detention shatters their self-esteem, especially when the teacher does not issue such consequences fairly to other students who exhibit the same behavior.  Such lengthy detentions issued to young children reflect an unforgiving attitude and atmosphere of the adults.  Such consequences cause feelings of injury and resentment in students, especially the best-behaved students. 

Issuing 30-60 minute detentions to third graders for students who poke a hole through a piece of cardboard, or who write in another student’s personal storybook after being given permission by that student to do so is unfair, harsh, and unforgiving.  Especially for those students who attend Christian faith-based schools in which forgiveness is to be one of the core values of the school – and when such forgiveness is not practiced, but rather, severe consequences of lengthy 60 minute detentions are issued – undermines the faith foundation of the school.  What is preached is not, in fact, practiced by those issuing the disciplinary consequences. 

In too many schools, children are expected to be perfect at all times, at all costs, no matter what.  Of course, I expect that when there are serious situations that arise, such as kids hurting or harming another in some way, there are to be serious consequences.  However, I still do not see the benefit of issuing serious consequences to students for minor issues.  Doing so does more harm than good, and it potentially creates a bad reputation for the school. 

Regarding the issuing of these consequences, there are often no exceptions, unless, of course, the student happens to be the child of a teacher or other employee at the school.  Then, there can be much that is overlooked.  Even if the children involved in a situation are not offspring of school employees, bias and/or favoritism may still be present in the decision-making regarding disciplinary consequences.  And, for some poorly-behaved students, the most severe disciplinary consequences could be issued, and there would still be no change or improvement in behavior, so to what end does that lead?  Again, that just creates resentment and mistrust in the student toward authority figures. 

Some students will even act out more after receiving disciplinary consequences.  Their negative behavior is negatively reinforced by the severe consequences, and so the cycle continues.  Some students get so nervous about the severe disciplinary consequences that they act out and do not even realize it, and then, they receive the severe disciplinary consequences – exactly what they were afraid of and trying to avoid.  Some adults believe that severe consequences – even for the most minor of issues – will stop the child’s behavior, though being understanding, compassionate, and speaking with care to the child about the situation is the best route to take. 

I am familiar with one school principal who visited a class of kindergartners, yelled at them, caused several of them to cry, and then, left the room, leaving the three adults in the classroom to comfort and console them.  How is that beneficial to the students?  How does the leader of the school yelling at them give them a sense of comfort and confidence.  Tragically, it ingrained their fears of the principal, that he is a big, mean, scary man to avoid and not trust.  He may compliment them publicly, but privately, he yells at them and makes them cry?  Is this a man who should be a leader of a Christian faith-based school, one who unnecessarily intimidates and scares the youngest students in the school?  It appears that he is exactly the person whom school system administrators want to lead the school.

Issuing lengthy detentions of 30-60 minutes or more to primary and/or elementary school students is too long and too severe.  Such disciplinary consequences – especially in response to minor issues – hurts children’s self esteem, injures their confidence, and creates mistrust and resentment, especially when the child has generally outstanding behavior and/or when the consequences are unfair, with the other child(ren) involved receiving no consequences. 

If school administrators are trying to increase enrollment and maintain student retention rates, issuing severe disciplinary consequences is not the route to take.  I have observed a good many families leave particular schools simply because of the severe disciplinary consequences their children (especially the boys) receive for minor issues, to the denial of teachers and/or administrators.  Why is it that so many female teachers lack the patience, empathy, and understanding necessary in understanding and teaching young children, particularly boys?  For them, the students must immediately abide by their rules, or repeatedly face consequences, sometimes throughout the entire school year, and often, simply because the teacher is angry with and/or does not like the child.  I have observed this to occur toward many children in relation to several teachers. 

Typically when parents inform school administrators about such situations, their children are only punished more because the teachers are supported by the administrators.  If the administrator denies that there is a problem regarding the teacher, then the parents are supposed to believe it, as well as that the problem lies with their child.  This is definitely a regressive and unproductive attitude to take, however, I have observed it occur over and over again.  People tell me that I have multitudes of patience, compassion, and understanding – I would be overjoyed to teach those educators and administrators how to respect and understand young children.

It is unfortunate that more people who are in the business of educating and/or caring for our children are not more understanding, sensitive, and compassionate toward them.  Being excessively harsh is incorrect and unethical; being compassionate, caring, and kind is what Jesus has taught us to do.  Those affiliated with Christian faith-based schools should be practicing that the most of anyone rather than doing the opposite of it.

I do not believe in harsh punishments, nor severe disciplinary consequences.  I do not issue them, nor do I agree with them.  When disciplinary consequences issued by a school are more harsh than I would ever dream of giving my own child, one must step back and reflect on whether or not the school truly upholds the faith and values that it promotes. 

Such faith and values begin at the top in any organization, and if those values are not in accordance with what the school stands for, then leadership restructuring, reorganization, and/or positive, progressive professional development is needed in order to promote, maintain, and enhance the best interests of the students.  I am one who truly believes that our schools must be progressive, not regressive.  People can say alot of good things, but actions truly speak louder than words.  When those actions do not correlate with the faith and values on which the school was founded, one must wonder in what direction the school is heading.

So the question remains, “Where are those schools in which true faith-based compassion, sensitivity, and understanding – as well as an excellent, affordable education – is practiced toward children by everyone, rather than severe and unforgiving punishments for minor issues that are detrimental to them?”  These are children for goodness sakes, not criminals.  I am interested to know where the said progressive and nurturing schools are; and only those schools with said qualities need apply.

“My Change.org Petitions for Children and School Safety” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Increased Building Security and Protections are Needed in American Public and Private Schools

Increased Building Security and Protections are Needed in American Public and Private Schools

The Sandy Hook Elementary School Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut was horrific and devastating.  As a mother, a parent, an educator, a Christian, and an American, I was in shock about the incredible terror that was unleashed upon young, innocent, vulnerable children and their school teachers and administrators when I heard of and read about it last Friday, December 14, 2012.  My heart goes out to all of the victims, survivors, families, first responders, and religious who have had any involvement in this devastating tragedy; and that healing and hope will come to all of those who lost loved ones or were traumatized because of it.

I heard about the crisis while volunteering at a local Catholic store that aims to provide support and assistance to those who are in need.  Then, reading an Internet article about the tragedy, I was in shock and disbelief.  My own 9-year-old son became informed of the crisis while still at school by reading the headlines of an Internet article about the tragedy on a teacher’s computer screen.  He coped with his sadness and fears independently without any adult guidance until receiving it from me at school dismissal.

It is bad enough that so many children died.  To add to that, also imagine children throughout our country who have been required to mentally cope with this knowledge and information on their own, without any effective guidance or discussion.  Just yesterday, it was reported that an 11-year-old in Utah brought an unloaded gun and ammunition with him to school for protection.  Safety, protection, and guidance is needed for children, including appropriate shielding from sensitive information about such tragedies.

So many lives have been lost, so much innocence has not been spared.  How can we assure our children, educators, school personnel, and parents throughout our country that students will be safe in our schools in the wake of this tragedy? 

More action is needed to protect children, educators, and school personnel in our schools from violence.  An increased amount of legally-required building securities and protections are needed within our public and private schools throughout America.  More effective assistance and support is also needed for all those who are struggling with mental health issues.

Yesterday, I read about and cried over so many of the funerals that were being held for the victims in the Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  The lives of all those who died are valuable and important, each in their own ways.  They are the lives of children and adults who will live on in our memories forever.  It is for them that we must act positively to make positive change in the wake of this tragedy.

Today, I signed 35 Change.org petitions related to honoring the victims of Sandy Hook, ending gun violence, curbing the sales of guns and ammunition, and increasing the availability of mental health care.  I also created two of my own Change.org petitions.  Please read, review, and sign my petitions that I posted on Change.org today in support of children.  The petitions include one calling for a National Children’s Day, and another seeking an increase in legally-required building security in public and private schools.  My petitions can be found at the following links:

http://www.change.org/petitions/president-barack-obama-united-states-congress-united-states-senate-create-a-national-children-s-day ; and

http://www.change.org/petitions/president-barack-obama-governors-governors-elect-washington-dc-mayor-increase-legally-required-building-security-at-public-and-private-schools .

The text of my first petition is as follows:

“In the United States, we celebrate so many special days, including Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparent’s Day, Sweetest Day, Valentine’s Day, and so many other days to mark special events, occasions, and holidays. The creation and enactment of a National Children’s Day is necessary in the United States. In remembrance of the memories of the 20 children who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook Elementary School Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, an annual day to celebrate children in our nation is desperately needed. The day need not be on December 14, but can be on another day at some point throughout the year.

Countries such as Mexico honor children and have a national children’s day. Americans must also value, honor, appreciate, love, and respect children enough to create and enact a National Children’s Day, correct? It is long past time in the United States for the creation and enactment of a National Children’s Day to celebrate children and their innocence, vulnerability, joy, love, blessings, energy, and so much more that they bring into our lives.

Children are our future. We, as Americans, must value our children enough to create and enact a special day just for the children! 

Please sign this petition to President Barack Obama, and the members of the United States Congress and Senate, to create and enact a National Children’s Day in the United States.

Thank you.”

My second petition reads:

“In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, an increase in legally-required building security and protections are desperately needed in our public and private schools throughout the country.  Public and private schools should be legally-required to have working locked entry/access; working and monitored videocameras throughout the schools; communications devices such as telephones, public address systems, and panic/call buttons in each classroom; trained, competent personnel such as police and/or security officers to react effectively to crises; and practice and participate in regular monthly or quarterly lock-down drills and intruder alert drills. 

Our most precious, loved, and cherished young offspring are placed in the care and responsibility of educators and school staff each day.  They must be more and better-equipped and practiced in reacting to emergency or crisis situations.  Schools throughout the country require regular practice and participation of students and school personnel in fire drills, but there is no regular practice of intruder alert drills or lock-down drills in many schools, especially private and/or parochial schools.  Increased awareness and practice is needed so that everyone can react more quickly, efficiently, and effectively to protect and/or save lives in an emergency or crisis situation.

No matter how safe we would like to think or believe that our schools are, there are always unsafe situations that are unpublicized and unheard.  Just because one has not heard of a dangerous situation occurring in a school, does not mean that it has not occurred. 

We, citizens, educators, parents, and leaders must do more and demand more for the protection, safety, and security of our children in all schools throughout the country.  We must be willing to make positive changes and sacrifices for the protection, safety, and benefit of our children.  Children must be and feel safe in attending school, the place where so many of our children spend a great portion of their lives. 

We must take a stand against the increasing culture of violence in America, and work to improve and enhance the safety, security, and protections within our schools.  Please sign this petition to let our elected leaders know that positive change in these areas is desperately needed. 

Thank you.”

Let us stand together in this tragedy to help make the future better for ourselves, our children, and all Americans.  More must be done.  We must do it today!