Rabbi Shmuel Gluck is the Director of Areivim, an organization that offers counseling, crisis intervention and referral services for teens and their families.
Positioning Each Child in School and Life – Part One
The Areivim office is very busy at this time of year. There are still many students looking for the perfect school for next year. Areivim offers Yeshiva High School and post High School placement services for boys and girls, in addition to the many other services Areivim offers our community. Areivim places approximately 150 students annually.
Parents and their children come to me regularly for advice on schools. After I offer my suggestions for a specific school, the parents and children often question my advice. They find my choice of school contrary to their expectations. They're surprised when I veer from choices that they feel would be consistent with my Torah background. Sometimes they feel that my choice ignores their view of what's important to them. Sometimes I'll suggest two schools as if they're similar, although public opinion considers them to be on different ends of the Yeshiva spectrum in terms of religiosity or individual approach. At other times I may reject a "better" choice for one with a lesser reputation.
Before I discuss my thought processes in selecting possible schools, I'd like to highlight the two pitfalls that parents must avoid in selecting schools. The first is to avoid making decisions based on personal experiences, or on the many stories that circulate around the community regarding individual schools. I may suggest a school, to which the family will say, "Our friend has a son who went there a few years ago and we don't think that it's a good school". The most frustrating part of this discussion is when I find out that their son was expelled for the same behavior for which they criticized the other school.
The second pitfall is for parents not to realize that Yeshivos are changing so rapidly that what they heard three years ago about a school, is often irrelevant today. Except for the "classic" schools that have been around for thirty plus years, most schools must be reassessed every year or two. At the present time their successful reputation may be undeserving, or they may have stopped floundering and have finally succeeded in improving the quality of their education.
My approach is based upon a set of conditions that, I believe, must be the basis for the school selection process. These conditions are very similar to those that I apply when I offer advice on Chinuch to people. In order to help you apply these same school selection guidelines to general Chinuch techniques, I'll highlight these similarities (in parenthesis).
There are five basic conditions for all successful placements. If any of these conditions aren't met, I disqualify that school from being a viable option.
The first condition is sustainability. The school must be able to offer the student a significant chance of continuing beyond the present school year. This means that the school will invite the student back year after year, and that the student will also want to return. At the least, the school must be able to "last" for the rest of this year and the entire next year. I would never consider doing a placement for a student if the intention of the parent or student is just to "finish the year", and "move on" to the next year. (Any project being considered for a child to undertake, such as becoming a camp counselor, getting a summer job, or tutoring, must consider whether that child will be able to finish the project.)
Many parents of unhappy children ask me about the importance of their children finishing the school year in their present school. They believe that the importance of finishing the school year gives the students a feeling of accomplishment by not "running away" from their responsibilities. This is very true.
However, there are some factors that can override this. Children (certainly those that haven't been successful) aren't significantly motivated by a feeling of accomplishment that comes from finishing a school year. Even though I agree that, if at all possible, students should finish the year in the same school in which they began the year, this must be weighed against the advantages of switching to a school that's a better fit.
I'll generally ask the parents, "If they can finish the school year, why are you discussing switching schools for the next year? If there's a problem and they're not happy, why wait to make a change that you believe is necessary?" Although it's true that some problems that are brought to the attention of parent's don't require immediate attention, many do. (In general, any plan worth implementing should be done sooner rather than later.)
Sustainability is important because a failed attempt is often worse than no attempt. People, certainly unmotivated ones, who've failed several times, don't generally conclude that they have to try harder, or that they must learn from their mistakes. They generally conclude that the goal is not worthwhile or is unattainable. A failed attempt also taints the student in the eyes of any potential school. Very few schools will consider a student after repeated failures. The remaining options are often inferior to the compromise that I generally suggest.
Parents must remember that allowing students not to be in school is even worse than going to an inferior school. Attending a school acknowledges accountability to a system. Once students don't feel accountable, their value systems change for the worse, and therefore an inferior school is almost always better than no school. For this reason parents must do whatever they can to avoid, or at least limit, the time that a student is at home. Every week creates and reinforces within the student an attitude of, "you can't tell me what to do".
I believe that accountability to a system is more important than anything else. Two students who do the same negative activities, are still miles apart when one's in school and the other isn't. The student knows that attending school is what's right, and doing something bad when no one's looking is wrong. Students that aren't accountable to a system believe that they can do what they want. They have no thoughts of right or wrong.
The need for sustainability must override the opportunity for growth. If I'm presented with two possible choices of schools, one which offers a significant opportunity for growth and the other which offers sustainability, I'll always choose the latter. Unlike my approach to students who're motivated, floundering students must be dealt with in a conservative manner. Parents of floundering students should worry more about the possibility that their children will become worse, rather than hope that their children will become better. Students that remain in the school system can, as they mature, be moved to "better" schools. If they're motivated they can make up for those lost years of growth within months. However, if they're bounced from school to school, they'll find it extremely difficult to make up these lost years.
To be continued
For more information about Areivim or for copies of this or other articles please contact them by phone at 845-371-2760 or by e-mail at Areivim@juno.com
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