Englishton Park
Academic Remediation & Training Center
Englishton Park Presbyterian Ministries, Inc.
PO Box 228, Lexington, Indiana 47138

Email: thomaslisabarnett@etczone.com

Englishton Home

Program Information

Employment Opportunities

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

and worthwhile.

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

or reprimanding.

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.

 

Research Outcomes

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

problematic.

 

References

Rawson, Harve E. & McIntosh, David (1991). The Effects of Therapeutic
Camping on the Self-Esteem of Children with Severe Behavioral Disorders.
Therapeutic Recreation Journal,25, 41-49.

Rawson, Harve E. & McIntosh, David (1987). A Very Special Place. Changing
Schools, 15, 6-9.

Rawson, Harve E. & Tabb, Lisa C. (1993). Effects of Therapeutic
Intervention on Childhood Depression. Child and Adolescent Social Work
Journal, 10, 39-52.

Rawson, Harve E. (1992). The Interrelationship of Measures of Manifest
Anxiety, Self-Esteem, Locus of Control and Depression in Children with
Learning Difficulties. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 10, 319-329.