Getting kids on the wrong track on the right track is a problem that has bedeviled educators for generations.
Champaign school officials appear to be on the verge of trying a new approach to handling students who chronically misbehave in school and face out-of-school suspensions.
Rather than suspend the students, they wish to create a special environment where these young people can develop social skills and improve their academics.
Good luck with that. It would be great to be wrong, but it's hard to imagine that something so basic as what's being proposed actually will have the desired effect.
In devising this program, which would cost an estimated $200,000 a year, school officials confront the most obvious of all facts — students who are loafing around at home on suspension are not in class learning. In other words, it's a net negative, assuming, of course, that they were learning anything to begin with.
Assistant superintendent Laura Taylor was absolutely correct when she said that "you lose their learning opportunities" when they are out of school,
What's important to remember, however, is that the school district's motive for suspending students who repeatedly misbehave is not educational. Students are suspended not so they can learn, but so their classmates can learn in an environment free of the chaos and disorder misbehaving students generate.
If the district can separate suspended students from their regular classrooms while simultaneously offering them a more positive alternative than hanging out at home, fine. But that's easier said than done.
Part of the proposed program devised by the school district results from district administrator Orlando Thomas' conversations with 25 students who had been suspended more than three times.
"They said to succeed, they needed teachers to respect them, a mentor to help them when they need a break or help staying eligible for sports because that's all they care about," according to The News-Gazette's summary of their conversations.
The suspended students' perceptions of their needs and what they view as important outline the depth of this serious problem. For starters, it's a self-serving view that rejects responsibility for their misbehavior.
They may feel they need respect. But do they deserve respect? All students should be treated politely, but respect is earned. It's not handed out to pacify the classroom troublemaker.
Sports is all they care about? Participation in sports programs can provide an incentive to work and behave in the classroom. But the mind-set is reflective of a deep problem, the inability to see themselves as successful young people or adults filling important social roles apart from the athletic field.
These young people — who will range in age from kindergarten through high school — deserve the public's sympathy and the school district's support, not for how they act but for the damage they are unknowingly doing to their life prospects.
Many of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds and the social pathologies are well known — chaotic and fractured families, poverty, violence, lack of regard for the importance of an education. Unfortunately, these problems are growing worse, and the schools can only play a limited role — five to six hours a day, five days a week — addressing them. Apart from the $200,000 cost in an already tight budget, there's no reason they shouldn't pursue this experiment.
But everyone should go into it with their eyes wide open. If it was this easy, it would have been done a long time ago.