Thursday, October 10, 2013

'The Hidden Costs of Missing School' - No surprises there!

I read an article in the Herald this morning and low and behold - there were those words, thoughts and ideas floating around in my head, desperate to be set free.  (see link below)

"School children who are suspended, expelled or drop out early are more likely to suffer from poor health and social difficulties - or even die young, according to new research."

This news hasn't come as any surprise to me - quite the contrary.  I've been working with at risk kids for years and it's a topic I'm pretty passionate about.  

I don't think the solutions are rocket science either.  A little on the costly side perhaps, but factor in school disengagement, drop out rates, crime, teenage pregnancy, drugs and booze - not to mention the word we must not speak (so picture it in a whisper) - suicide - then the outlay for early intervention is a proverbial drop in the countries budget.

The biggest disappointment for me (and you would think the above would be enough) is the loss of potential.  Each of these young people started out as a beautiful blank canvass, each brimming with unfullfulled potential.  Each one - given the right start, caring, nurturing and support -have the ability to be  productive tax paying members of our communities.

And, we failed them.

Was that a bit harsh?  The royal 'we'.  I don't think so - let me elaborate.

By 'we' I mean society.  The schools and professionals meant to support schools, who gave up on them, or the system that failed to spot them, when as babies, they needed to be cared for - or when their families needed support and close monitoring.

By 'we', I mean those who think it's not the governments job to feed children or interfere.  Popular catch cries of 'you shouldn't have children if you cant look after them' sound all too familiar.  The media  and Government have been known to capitalise on these catch cries to feed an agenda not based on the best interests of the student.  Every time I hear words to this effect, I cringe and a little bit of my faith in humanity crumbles.

Our country and countries just like ours, spend many dollars on justice, health and alternative education systems that simply end up being an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.  Fiscally and socially speaking, it is far more prudent to have a solid security fence at the top of the cliff with 'In case of  Emergency Break Glass' boxes with Band-Aids inside at regular checkpoints.  

Early intervention, catching and tracking these children and their families from the beginning, just makes sense.  Technically speaking, we have the system already - it just needs more teeth and more resources.

Equity needs to be at the forefront - this is about levelling the playing field and evening up the odds for at risk students.  Its not favouritism or rewarding the 'underprivileged undeservedly' - again, its common sense.  The more engaged and educated the society the better for all of us - economy included.

This article has at its basis school engagement.  I agree that the longer students are engaged in school the better life will be for them.  I acknowledge it is not easy.  Some of these students come with major issues and catering for them is problematic.  But, it is so critical.  School can be the last bastion of peace and safety for many of our students.  It provides a solid and consistent place where expectations are clear and for some kids - its the only place someone cares for them.  It is critical that schools look hard at how to keep kids in school.  Look carefully at the ways to cope with at risk students and find ways to engage and care for them.  The harder the student, the harder a school and indeed society, needs to work to bring them back.

It may seem like the easy option to 'wash our hands' of these disengaged students - but - the costs to our communities is just too high.

Who knows which one of these lost souls could have been the next Steve Jobs, Shakespeare, J K Rowling, or Peter Jackson.  

We do them and ourselves such a disservice when we write them off - imagine if we started by just re thinking about these kids in a different way, and asked not why should we, but how can we make this better.

Give them a chance.  Your community will thank you for it.

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