Academic Remediation & Training Center
Englishton Park Presbyterian Ministries, Inc.
PO Box 228, Lexington, Indiana 47138
Reprinted from Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin: Rawson & Rawson, 1993.
Producing that Winning Feeling in Children at Risk
Children labeled "at risk" are targeted for special attention in most
school systems, but programs specifically focused on their needs rarely have
been measured objectively for effectiveness. This innovative short-term
residential summer program for students at risk aged six through twelve
involved public elementary schools, a private camp facility, a college
faculty and students, private funding and a whole new curriculum. Academic
motivation, school achievement, self-esteem and self-confidence were
measured before and after the program and in most cases showed marked and
significant increases in all these areas. These changes did not occur in
non-program comparison groups. Furthermore, such improvements have now
been demonstrated with over 3,000 children at risk.
What do you do with the students who are the talk of the teacher's lounge;
the students who make even the most devoted teacher feel defeated; the
students who tell you they hate school and mean it; the students who don't
do anything even remotely academic if they can possible avoid it; the
students who don't like anybody, but most of all don't like themselves?
These questions keep coming up over and over in developing effective
at-risk programs. Such children may need to be placed in a whole new
environment 1) that is structured for learning but doesn't remind them of
school and all its associations; 2) where their reputations don't lead to
behavioral expectations; 3) where they are able to get away temporarily from
their home communities and parents to gain a little perspective on their
identity and where they are headed; and 4) where they have a totally
different type of teacher, curriculum, classroom materials and evaluation
system that can somehow be perceived as better, but, if that isn't possible,
at least radically different!
The Englishton Park Children's Center
This basic core of ideas lead to the formation of the Englishton Park
Children's Center over twenty-four years ago. The program, originally for
boys only, now has enrolled over 3,000 children at risk. This program is a
unique partnership of cooperating public schools, the facilities of a
church-owned private summer camp and the expertise, time and effort of local
college students guided and supervised by teachers from local colleges and
schools. All funding comes from private foundations devoted either to
helping children in need or to new educational ventures, so scarce tax
dollars are left intact along with local restrictions and guidelines.
From the beginning we designed the entire program around three basic tenets:
*The curriculum, teaching techniques and all non-class activities would
be based on empirical research of what works best with this type of child - if
the research wasn't available, we would conduct it ourselves.
*We would never do anything based solely on "expert opinion," subjective feelings, community opinion, et cetera.
*We would be a cooperative, adjunct, short-term learning alternative to
public schools, not a substitute for home, school or community.
To meet these program goals, a residential program was designed so that
full environmental control could be maintained, free of previous home,
school and community behavioral expectations. This program, because it was
residential and "away from home," would, of necessity, have to be short-term
to minimize separation anxiety on the part of both parents and children, but
at the same time, extremely intensive in order to effect needed change. In
addition, it was to be an adjunct program, not a replacement. The idea of a
camp (a traditional, well established idea) met the first goal of
residential control, and summer met the second goal of "adjunct," i.e., when
school was not in session. Our summer camp was actually a short-term
residential, intensive treatment center for academically deficient,
behaviorally disoriented children, now usually labeled "at risk." But we
called it a camp and, because most of our referrals hated school and
everything it stood for, we disguised our academic, therapeutic curriculum
around traditional summer camp activities and expectations. Over the years
we have found this strategy highly successful and fully acceptable by these
children, their parents and the referral agencies, i.e., teachers,
principals, counselors and others.
Class Structure and Curriculum
After intensive investigation into which learning expectations are placed
on children in the typical school curriculum, we identified three basic
expectations: 1) At times, students are expected to learn on their own
without helping others or getting others to help them. 2) At other times,
students are expected to learn with others; they are to help others or get
others to help them. 3) At still other times, students are expected to
learn how to compete successfully. They are to learn how to win and how to
lose and how to profit as members of society from both experiences.
These three types of learning we labeled "individual learning,"
"cooperative learning" and "competitive learning." The next step was
implementing training in these types of learning into our curriculum.
To implement the first type of learning, we arranged classes of eight to
nine students with a teacher and a therapist. The teacher organized and
presented the lessons; the therapist kept the students "on task" and
motivated. Each lesson was deliberately designed so the students did not
have to help others or get others to help them in order to complete the
lesson or "be successful." Since the children were very negative toward any
classroom as such, we introduced each academic topic around a traditional
camping activity perceived favorably by the children.
Research indicated four camp activities that almost all students thought
were fun and wanted to be in: swimming (whether they could actually swim or
not), arts and crafts, campcrafts and nature study (Rawson & McIntosh,
1991). The school topics they most needed help in were paired with these
four activities - but only after a lot of hard work and experimentation on
our part! Mathematics is now taught in the swimming pool, arts and crafts
classes mysteriously turn into lessons on geography, nature study teaches
science participation, and language skills are taught in campcrafts. For
instance, the children must master the structure of a sentence such as "My
tribe is camping out tonight" and be able to identify the subject, verb and
tense of the sentence before they are given their own pup-tents and shown
how to set them up for the overnight camp.
We tried to teach arithmetic in sports as an activity, e.g., "what's 2 +
2?" as a prerequisite to go to first base after hitting the ball, but we
found that children at risk disliked sports and athletics primarily because
they associated them with personal failure, poor peer acceptance, staying
after school and having someone else always telling them what to do. We
quickly eliminated all traditional (school) sports and substituted new ones
with no "bad memories," e.g., archery, dodgeball, weight-lifting, survival
training and others. In the swimming pool, ping-pong balls each bear a
number, and a child may be asked to grab any two balls and do an oral
problem in addition or subtraction before starting to swim.
In arts and crafts, before a child may put a clay medallion in the kiln to
bake, he or she may have to answer a question about the map location of his
or her hometown or find the capital of a foreign country on a world map. In
campcraft, the emphasis may be on learning to use knives: which is the
pocket knife, which the sheath knife, and what are they for? How do we use
words to differentiate and describe? Nature study may emphasize
photosynthesis, vertebrae or work with a microscope.
The students' morning is an intensive school under the guise of a
recreational camp. In the process, they are exposed to four different
subjects and four different teachers, but always with the security of the
therapist (their "personal teacher") who knows them best and accompanies
them to all classes.
In the afternoon all children, again within their group, or tribe, of eight
or nine, participate in two ninety-minute cooperative learning projects
during which they must work with others to get the project done. Projects
are in part student chosen and directed. They may choose to build a tree
house in the woods, construct a bridge over a creek, plant a flower garden,
break a new trail. The choices are limited only by what is possible within
time limits, what can be done on the grounds with available equipment and
what everyone, including the teachers, initially agrees upon as desirable
Most of the activities are established around tasks the children want to do
because they benefit from them, e.g., clearing a site for a campout that
night. After the initial agreement, should one tribe member not participate
fully, all work sometimes stops. Peer pressure, however, tends to mold them
into a cooperating group. Each member's contribution to the total effort is
emphasized constantly to stress the value of working effectively with
others. As every teacher knows, learning how to work effectively with
others is a big part of successful classroom participation. These projects,
spread across our 600 acres of woodlands, teach long-term goals, the effects
of working together, and most important, the art of compromise.
Afternoons also are a time for individual tutoring. While the cooperative
learning projects are taking place, each child leaves the group for two
individual tutoring sessions which concentrate on that particular child's
difficulties in coping with successful completion of normal school
assignments. Each child is assigned an individual adult tutor who plans
these sessions around the child's reported area of greatest academic
difficult. Tremendous progress can be made since all available time is
directed to that particular child's problems. Tutors must be highly trained
in academic remediation and have available to them a wide variety of
remediation materials that have been proven successful empirically in
working with children at risk. Fortunately, these materials have become
widely available recently.
Often more than academic skills are taught in these tutoring sessions.
There may be counseling and work on building self-confidence if the time
isn't right for academics or if a child is ready to talk about his or her
problems with adults, peers or classroom situations.
In the evening after dinner there are two activities. The first is
"pay-off." During the day the children receive points for meeting
individualized academic and behavioral goals. For each point a hole is
punched into a card the children wear around their necks. At the end of the
day these points can be traded for a fun activity, such as swimming, archery
or fishing. After this, the four tribes are exposed to competitive
situations such as scavenger hunts or games where they learn how to handle
competition and the art of winning and losing, but always within the
security of their own age group and always in situations where appropriate
behavior of how to lose and how to win are modeled constantly by our staff.
There is a great deal of verbal praise for the children and physical
gestures of affection and approval, such as hugs, from the teachers and
therapist. If the children don't behave as expected, they are withdrawn
from a coveted activity for two or three minutes. But there is no nagging
At lunch each day, award certificates are presented to individuals for
particularly appropriate behavior or high academic achievement, and blue
ribbons are awarded to tribes for their group work. Each child and tribe
will get one or two awards, which are intended to increase self-concept.
The groups are responsible for keeping their own sleeping quarters clean
and neat, with ribbon awards given for top performance. Morning and night
in quarters, teachers of the same sex as the campers teach good personal
hygiene and grooming and emphasize appropriate social behavior including
effective interpersonal relationship skills.
Each year since the inception of the program, various researches have been
conducted to ascertain the program's strengths and weaknesses in reaching
its stated goals. To ensure that the changes were in fact due to the
program, comparison groups of children, judged equally at risk but not
enrolled in the program, also were measured in each of the researches
described below. Only research findings where program participants
demonstrated a change not observed in comparison groups are reported.
Three separate self-esteem researches, using objective scales specifically
designed for children at risk, consistently reveal highly significant gain
with especially marked increases in such areas as degree of perceived
likability, positive regard toward peers, positive regard toward authority
figures such as teachers and positive regard for their own academic and
social potential (Rawson & McIntosh, 1991).
Another set of researches has attempted to measure academic progress within
the program (Rawson & McIntosh, 1987). Measuring all students the second
day of the program as a pretest and the next-to-last day as a posttest using
equivalent forms of standardized school achievement tests, results indicate
that, on the average, summer program participants gain the equivalent of
three school months in mathematical abilities and the equivalent of almost
six months in reading abilities. The younger the camper, the greater the
improvement in both these areas. These findings are not surprising in view
of the fact that the total instructional time in this residential adjunct
program is actually equivalent to several months of regular school time and
the most of this instructional time is highly individualized either on a
one-to-one tutoring basis or in very small group.
Equally important, other research studies demonstrate objectively
measurable decreases in both manifest anxiety and feelings of depression and
increases in feelings of being in control of their own lives (the "locus of
control" construct) (Rawson, 1992; Rawson & Tabb, 1993).
Another set of studies concerned changes in students' aptitudes toward
learning, (Rawson & McIntosh, 1991) i.e., did the program lead to any
changes in ability to learn new materials? Again, significant gain was
demonstrated for both male and female students regardless of age within the
elementary school range. Presumably, these changes in aptitude take place
not because of any change in innate ability but because attitudes toward
academic material are sharply altered within the program from an initial
highly negative and rebellious stance to a more moderate and tolerant
position (Rawson, 1992).
To check on attitudinal changes, two additional studies were conducted
within the program to attempt to objectively measure what changes, if any,
occurred in the child's individual attitude toward school in general,
teachers, school peers and attitude toward academic subjects. In each of
these four areas, significant change in attitude was measured. These
changes reflect a shift from initial extremely negative attitudes to a more
neutral or even positively accepting attitude in the average program
participant. this is especially true in attitudes toward teachers and is
somewhat less marked in attitudes toward school peers, perhaps because
teachers are originally perceived by them as extremely negative (Rawson, 1992).
Several follow-up studies have been conducted to see if parents, teachers,
social workers or others having direct contact with the child observe
behavioral changes four to six months after the program and when the child
is settled back in the community home and school setting. The results of
these studies indicate that changes in school and home behavior are indeed
noted even after this time period as a result of the program experience.
However, if recommendations by the program staff to parents, teachers and
others working with the child are not followed to any extent, any positive
gains begin to dissipate after approximately four to six months if the home
and school environment is such that the consequences of behavior are not
altered as they were within the adjunct program (Rawson & McIntosh, 1991).
Even though short-term behavioral gains can be demonstrated as a direct
result of the program experience, long-term, and hopefully permanent,
behavior change relies on factors outside program staff control and special
curriculum, i.e., the interaction between parent and child, teacher and
child, et cetera. Therefore, it would appear to be imperative if gains are
to be maintained that programs directed toward children at risk also attempt
through interviews, written recommendations, role-playing,
training-sessions, et cetera, to alter the child's interpersonal environment
in significant ways once the child leaves the special program.
Do These Programs Work?
All of the above results indicate that short-term, residential, highly
structured, well designed adjunct programs for elementary-age children at
risk are highly effective in dealing with certain areas of the child's
psychosocial problems and are certainly well worth the time, money and
effort devoted to them. They are also highly appealing to these children
and, perhaps due to the programs' predictability, enable them to relax and
enjoy themselves. Surveys we have done among previous campers as to whether
they would like to return to the program if given the opportunity
consistently show a 95 percent desire to return the following summer.
These types of at-risk programs do not solve all of the children's myriad
problems nor do they alter all problematic behavior exhibited by those
children. They do, however, offer consistent, objectively measurable
improvement in a variety of areas. Perhaps this is because they offer
children at risk a unique opportunity to re-evaluate those things which they
do right, identify and gain confidence in those talents they actually
possess and demonstrate alternatives for those things which have become
Rawson, Harve E. & McIntosh, David
(1991). The Effects of Therapeutic
Rawson, Harve E. & McIntosh, David
(1987). A Very Special Place. Changing
Rawson, Harve E. & Tabb, Lisa C.
(1993). Effects of Therapeutic
Rawson, Harve E. (1992). The
Interrelationship of Measures of Manifest