School for Disruptive Kids

May 15, 1994

Each year, some 50,000 children are suspended from Maryland public schools. Many of them are punished because they have disrupted classes. Ask any teacher or principal and he or she will tell you that just one unruly youngster can destroy the most dedicated efforts in the classroom.

Some jurisdictions have alternative schools to handle troublemakers. But that often concentrates all the bad apples in one barrel. Too often, these alternative schools become warehouses in which troubled kids are dumped to bide their time.

Now the state of Maryland wants to try something different. With legislative approval, the Schaefer administration will open a special school for disruptive students in Prince George's County this fall. It will serve problem students from public schools in the Baltimore-Washington region. The aim is to deal with these kids' behavioral problems before the kids get into trouble with the law.

A year-round, extended-day curriculum will be set up, allowing students to attend classes as well as sessions where they get the chance to understand why they engage in disruptive outbursts. They will be taught conflict management and other behavior modification techniques.

This school isn't a panacea. Initially, only 60 middle-school students who have displayed chronic disruptive or aggressive behavior will attend. And they will be voluntary participants. The worst disrupters won't be at this school.

Instead, these will be the troubled kids who want help but cannot get it at their local schools. After completing the program, which will last a minimum of three months, the students will return to their regular schools, where teachers and counselors will be trained in how to work with them.

If new approaches can be found to reach these students, the experiment will be a success. Or if the kids who participate in this program in Bladensburg come away with a new-found feeling of self-confidence and their emotions under control, it will be deemed a success. The methods that work in Bladensburg can easily be transferred to other schools throughout Maryland.

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