After 24 years of teaching students on parole and probation for Tacoma Public Schools, I’m often asked, “What can we do to prevent a child from being involved in crime and dropping out of school?”
Incarcerated youth are disconnected from community. They are unemotionally adrift in their own diluted world of unaccountability. Their negative decision-making processes are self-justified. Disconnected youth do not hold themselves accountable to a society that they are detached from.
The student disconnection can be traced to the 1980s, when urban school districts transitioned from the junior high seventh, eighth and ninth grades to the middle school system of sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
Sadly, many districts eliminated sports, shop classes and extracurricular activities. As result, disconnected 14- and 15-year-old ninth-graders are dropping out of school and involved in criminal activities. The increased social disconnection is traced to the adoption of the middle school system and elimination of extracurricular activities.
Junior highs provided enrichment extracurricular programs to help students build connections and a strong self-esteem. Teachers and coaches can instill honesty, dedication, camaraderie, morals and values. The middle school system has failed. It’s time to admit it and return to the junior high system.
The overused excuse that it’s the families’ fault is correct, but we, as a society, as a neighborhood, as individuals, can use public education to help youth be a reflection of America’s norms and values.