Thursday, September 12, 2013

Exploring an Alternative to Expulsion

For the past 8 years, I have worked in an urban public school here in Buffalo, NY.  And in those 8 years, I have seen students expelled for a variety of reasons.  Each time it happens, I ask myself 
"was there something I could have done?  Did we do everything possible to help this student succeed?" 
Unfortunately, my answer is almost always the same... No.


At the end of last year, I decided to do something to make a positive change in the lives of the students who would otherwise find themselves expelled.  I enlisted the help of a martial arts instructor on staff (pictured above) to create a unique program affectionately dubbed "The Breakfast Club".  The program is designed to equip students who have been identified as disruptions to the learning environment with skills to help them deal with feelings of stress, anger, frustration, and fear. 

Starting this fall, students in the Breakfast Club will first learn basic breathing techniques, in order to begin building the bridge between their bodies and their minds.  Through this mindful connection, students will learn to channel otherwise uncontrollable feelings to a place where they can be calmed and rationally processed.  

Once they have successfully mastered the art of breathing, they will learn to focus their minds and participate in extended meditation.  During this mediation, they will learn to visualize their fears, their anger, and their frustration, and then how to work through each of those emotions.

The final stage of the process with be learning tai-chi forms.  Once the forms have been learned, the students will work together to create a set called Sailing Troubled Waters.  This set will represent their journey towards self-control, self-discipline, and self-awareness.  My hope is that they will be given the opportunity to share their set during the commencement ceremony this spring.

I named this program "The Breakfast Club" for a few reasons.  The first, and most obvious, is the fact that the students will be meeting before school begins twice each week.  In order to encourage healthy minds and healthy bodies, breakfast will be provided for all who participate.  Equally obvious is the fact that, like the movie, the participants are all on the wrong side of the law when it comes to following school rules.  And while these two reasons are more than enough to justify the name, there is a third reason that ends up being the most important.  

By the end of the movie, the disparate band of miscreants, knowing little about each other at the beginning of their detention, come together as a small community.  They depend on each other to get through the day, and they leave knowing that their lives have forever changed because of their experience.  We are hoping the same will occur with the students in our Breakfast Club.  We're hoping they will become a tight-knit community, looking out for each other, supporting each other, and ultimately ensuring that they will all survive and grow through the experience.  

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