Counselor talks boy into giving up gun

You didn’t hear about a school shooting at Sycamore Middle School in Cheatham County, Tennessee this week. That’s because counselor Molly Hudgens talked to a would-be shooter for 45 minutes until she persuaded the 14-year-old boy to give up his gun, reports WKRN News 2.

Molly Hudgens, a middle-school counselor, talked a 14-year-old boy into giving her the gun he planned to use to shoot a teacher.

Counselor Molly Hudgens prevented a school shooting in Tennessee.

The student had approached the counselor after first period to say he  was having “issues.” She realized he had a gun.

The boy said he planned to kill teachers and a police officer, but said Hudgens was the only person who could talk him out of it.

Hudgens talked with the teen until he was ready to give up the gun and surrender to police.

Defiant kids stay, teachers leave

More than 200 teachers quit the Highline district near Seattle this spring,”many saying the new approach to student discipline has created outright chaos,” reports Claudia Rowe in the Seattle Times.

Three years ago, Superintendent Susan Enfield eliminated out-of-school suspensions, except for threats to campus safety, reports Rowe.

Instead, Highline would keep its students on campus — even if they cursed at teachers, fought with peers or threw furniture — attempting to address the roots of their behavior through a combination of counseling and academic triage.”

Rather than tossing kids for defiant behavior, teachers were expected to manage their outbursts in class, and refer chronic misbehavers to a kind of super study hall where an academic coach would get them back on track and connect those who needed it to counseling.

Teachers received little training in de-escalating conflicts, reports Rowe.

“Violence is rampant and behavior management is nonexistent within our school community,” wrote Jasmine Kettler, a Highline High teacher, in a farewell blog post.

Credit: Mark Nowlin/Seattle Times

Credit: Mark Nowlin/Seattle Times

“There’s a fight every week and it just feels normal — but it shouldn’t,” said Carson Torres, 18, at an Aug. 17 board meeting.

In response to the story, Enfield wrote that “eight out of ten staff members say they are safe at school.” Overall, the teacher turnover rate has declined and the graduation rate is rising, she wrote.

However, Highline High lost almost 30 percent of  its staff this spring, while Mount Rainier High lost a quarter of the teaching force, a teachers’ union official says.

They go to college, but do they graduate?

Most school districts brag about sending graduates to college, but don’t know how they do once they get there, writes Lauren Camera in U.S. News. How many earn a degree? How many give up in their first year? District of Columbia Public Schools and some other urban districts have started tracking graduates to see how many complete college.

DCPS learned that 19 of 20 2014 graduates who enrolled at an area college didn’t make it to sophomore year; the 20th dropped out later. This year, thanks to well-informed counselors, nobody’s going there.

College counselors are given four- and six-year completion rates for D.C. students at every college and university at which they’ve enrolled. They can steer students away from schools where D.C. graduates have done poorly and toward better bets.

D.C. does the most to analyze its students’ college careers, writes Camera, but Baltimore and New York City schools also analyze data on their graduates. The University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research studies the success (or failure) of Chicago Public Schools from ninth grade to their mid-20s.

Many of the college-prep charter networks are analyzing how their graduates do in college — not as well as expected — and using the data to improve academic programs and counseling. I think that will have more of a payoff than assuming than steering poorly prepared students to slightly more effective colleges.

Two girls, different futures


As a 12th grader, Guadalupe Acevedo started thinking about college, but learned she qualifies only for community college. Photo: Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times

Lizbeth Ledesma and Guadalupe Acevedo grew up in low-income, immigrant families in Los Angeles, but their college futures are very different, write Joy Resmovits and Sonali Kohli in the Los Angeles Times.

A straight-A student in public school, Lizbeth earned a scholarship to Chadwick, a private school, in ninth grade. She pushed herself to meet higher academic standards. By 10th grade, expert counselors were helping her plan for college. A counselor helped her get a full scholarship to Babson College, near Boston, her first-choice school.

Lizbeth Ledesma meets with her colleague counselor, Beth Akers, at her private school.

Lizbeth Ledesma discusses college plans with counselor Alicia Valencia at Chadwick, a private school.

At Roosevelt High, a Los Angeles Unified campus in a low-income neighborhood, Guadalupe didn’t think seriously about college till her senior year. Even then, “I was so lost. I didn’t know how college worked.”

California students must complete a college-prep sequence of courses with C’s or better — and an overall B average — to qualify for a state university. Guadalupe realized too late she qualified only for community college.

She’ll start at East Los Angeles College and “hopes to transfer to USC, where she wants to take dance and Chicano studies and be a cheerleader,” reports the Times. (And ride a purple unicorn.)

Someone who earned mediocre (or worse) grades in low-level classes at a not-very-demanding high school is almost certain to be placed in remedial classes in community college. Most remedial students drop out in their first year, sometimes in their first few weeks.

Guadalupe could work hard and beat the odds. But her USC dreams show she’s still not getting useful advice.

If a kid is gay, what can a teacher say?

Hawaii may ban teachers, counselors and psychologists from trying to change a child’s sexual orientation, reports the Washington Times.

California, New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia have banned therapists from using “conversion therapy” to persuade teens to reject their homosexuality. “A bill introduced in Congress would ban conversion therapy nationwide,” reports The Atlantic. “In April, President Obama called for an end to these therapies for gay youth.”

In the '90s, My So-Called Life included Rickie Vasquez, a gay teen who liked to use the girls' restroom to put on make-up.

In 1994, My So-Called Life introduced Rickie Vasquez, a gay teen who liked to use the girls’ restroom to put on make-up.

“Really, it’s a subtle form of child abuse,” said Camaron Miyamoto, the director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Student Services at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Republican Rep. Bob McDermott said parents have a right to choose treatment for children who are questioning their sexuality, but called for the state Department of Education to bar teachers from counseling minors about sexual orientation.

The state can regulate what topics of discussion are appropriate for public school teachers on the job, but the proposed law goes much farther to infringe free-speech rights, writes Scott Shackford on Reason‘s Hit & Run. It appears to regulate private school teachers and “a teacher engaged in private matters on his or her own time.”

Censoring speech can backfire, he warns. Only two years ago, conservative state legislators tried to pass laws that forbid teachers and educators from discussing homosexuality with students for fear teachers would tell kids it’s OK to be gay.

Hip hop therapy

“Use your words” is old playground advice. In the latest wrinkle, urban schools are using “hip-hop therapy” — getting kids to write and rap about their feelings — as a counseling tool, reports the New York Times.

Ellis McBeth, a ninth-grade charter student in the Bronx, used to pick fights when he was upset. When his 12-year-old cousin died, he wrote a hip-hop song about his grief with his counselor’s help and recorded it with his older sister singing the chorus: “I want to say R.I.P. to you because I don’t believe it’s true, but I’ll still remember you.”

Tomas Alvarez III, a social worker in Oakland, Calif., said he started one of the first programs, called Beats Rhymes and Life, at Berkeley High School in 2004 to address the mental health needs of young black and Latino men, who tended to have higher rates of suspension and expulsion than other students.

“The same young men who refused to meet with me for traditional talk therapy — every single one of them — were writing rhymes at home on their own,” Mr. Alvarez said. “They were already using hip-hop to process their emotions.”

He helped found a nonprofit organization that has run programs at more than two dozen sites in California and New York. “Hip-hop gives young people a platform to talk about their hopes and dreams as well as their grief and loss,” said Alvarez.

Here’s an Atlantic story about using dance to teach empathy and other social-emotional skills.

Dropouts say: Don’t quit on me

GradNation’s Don’t Quit on Me focuses on the “power of relationships” to keep troubled students in school or persuade them to return, writes John Gomperts in Education Post.

. . . young people told us they need respect, not judgment. They need resources — bus passes, a ride to school, a meal, a job, a chance.

A relationship with a non-family adult can serve as an “anchor,” he writes, but even better is “a web of support.”

Schools sued for not being ‘trauma sensitive’

Beaten and sexually abused by his addict mother’s boyfriends, Peter P. did poorly in school. When he was kicked out of a foster home, the 11th grader slept on the roof of his high school till he was discovered — and suspended.

Kimberly Cervantes, 18, is suing Compton Unified for failing to provide "trauma-sensitive services."

Kimberly Cervantes, 18, is suing Compton Unified for failing to provide “trauma-sensitive services.”

Peter P., four other students and three teachers have filed a lawsuit against Compton Unified, which serves a low-income, high-crime city near Los Angeles. Students who’ve experienced violence, abuse, homelessness, foster care and other “adverse childhood experiences” need “trauma-sensitive services” in school, the suit argues. It calls for “complex trauma” to be considered a learning disability.

“The lawsuit is seeking training for staff to recognize trauma, mental health support for students to cope with their condition and a shift from punitive disciplinary practices to those based on reconciliation and healing,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Traumatized students are kicked out of school rather than helped, according to the suit.

Another student at age 8 first witnessed someone being shot and killed and has seen more than 20 other shootings since then — one of them resulting in the death of a close friend, according to the lawsuit.

Another student, Kimberly Cervantes, 18, a senior at Cesar Chavez Continuation School, said she stopped attending school for weeks at a time after multiple traumas, including being told by teachers at a different school that her bisexuality was “wrong.”

Los Angeles Unified provides counseling for traumatized students. One Guatemalan boy had witnessed rebel soldiers killing villagers, then saw gang violence in Los Angeles, said Marleen Wong, a USC social work professor who designed the program.

. . . Martin learned about trauma, how to calm himself and how to apply the relaxation techniques in his daily life, she said. Techniques included walking to school with others so as not to be alone and seeking teachers to support him.

. . . “He was able to go back to school, calmed down, had fewer fights and better attendance.”

There’s no question that some students have been through hell — and that it may affect their ability to behave and learn. But do we want to consider them disabled?

Family stress is their students’ greatest barrier to school success, say state Teachers of the Year in a new survey. Next came poverty, and learning and psychological problems.

The upwardly mobile barista


Alicea Thomas is a full-time shift supervisor at Starbucks — and a full-time online student at Arizona State.

Going to college is easy. Nearly all U.S. high school graduates enroll somewhere. Completing college is hard, especially for first-generation and lower-income students.

“Thirty-five million Americans now have some college experience but no degree, writes Amanda Ripley in The Upwardly Mobile Barista. Starbucks has teamed with Arizona State to help employees finish their degrees online.

As long as they worked 20 hours or more per week, any of the company’s 135,000 employees in the United States would be eligible for the program. Those who’d already racked up at least two years’ worth of credits would be fully reimbursed for the rest of their education. Those with fewer or no credits would receive a 22 percent tuition discount from Arizona State until they reached the full-reimbursement level.

As it turned out, the tuition aid wasn’t the most critical part of the plan, writes Ripley. Starbucks enrollees were promised “an enrollment counselor, a financial-aid adviser, an academic adviser, and a ‘success coach’ — a veritable pit crew of helpers.” A special orientation course teaches time management.

Advising has been critical. Baristas need lots of help to pry transcripts out of former colleges, track down missing paperwork and overcome their fears, writes Ripley.

Alicea Thomas, 23, works 35 hours a week as a shift supervisor, earning $11.46 an hour. When her computer was stolen, she dropped out of orientation. How do you take online courses without a computer?

But then she did something crucial. She reached out to her academic adviser at Arizona State, who got her signed up for another orientation class happening later that month and encouraged her to find a way to get online.

That’s when Thomas began taking her classes on her iPhone. She was amazed at how much she could do on the device. After work, she’d take it to Applebee’s, get a margarita, and start doing her reading and tapping out her discussion posts. Problems arose only when she needed a webcam to take the remotely proctored quizzes. In those cases, she usually borrowed a computer from a relative.

In her first semester, Thomas earned two A’s. She’s majoring in communications with hopes of working in public relations.

Only a small percentage of Starbucks workers have applied to ASU so far, but 85 percent of those who did were accepted. So far, persistence and pass rates are similar to other ASU online students.

Job retraining is the focus of today’s Upskill Summit at the White House.

‘Trauma-sensitive’ approach cuts suspensions

“Trauma-sensitive” schools are suspending less and graduating more, writes Hechinger’s Meredith Kolodner in the Washington Monthly.

When a sophomore screamed and swore at his English teacher at New Haven’s Metropolitan Business Academy,  Principal Judith Puglisi asked,“What do you need?”

After she quietly repeated her question close to a dozen times, he turned to her and said, “I need to come to your office.” There, Puglisi and the assistant principal listened to him shout until he began to cry, telling them that his stepfather had beaten him since he was 7. “I am sick of people calling me a loser,” he said.

The student met with a drama therapist trained in trauma at Metropolitan the next day, then apologized to the teacher and returned to class.

Metropolitan and a dozen other schools in Connecticut work with Animated Learning by Integrating and Validating Experience (ALIVE), which provides drama therapists to “identify trauma, prevent problems from escalating and respond effectively when students do act out,” writes Kolodner.

Metropolitan’s team now includes a school social worker, six social work interns and three part-time drama therapists from ALIVE.

Over the past three years, the school’s suspension rate has dropped by two-thirds to 3 percent. Fights are way down.  The graduation rate rose to 90 percent in 2014 and 70 percent of graduates enroll in college.

All ninth-graders take a course that deals with issues such as homelessness, gun violence and drug addiction.

One freshman class on a snowy March afternoon began with a happy celebration of a student’s birthday, but then took a darker turn. The group of 20 usually boisterous freshmen sat silently for 15 minutes as the birthday girl, encouraged by her teacher, related why she almost didn’t come to school that morning. “My mom told me she never wanted me,” the girl said, looking at the floor, determined not to cry. “She said what she always says. That I’m kinda worthless. A waste of space.”

Just cutting suspensions and expulsions isn’t enough, says Susan F. Colege, who directs the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative at Massachusetts Advocates for Children. Schools must “create a place where students feel safe enough to learn.”