Problem students

Our view : School at North Avenue headquarters just one solution

July 10, 2008

Some students can be so violent or disruptive that school personnel feel they no longer can manage them in class. When that happens, suspension or expulsion may be the only resort. But kicking troubled kids out of school doesn't solve the problem. When the kids eventually come back, so do their troubles.

That's why Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso's plan to set up an alternative school for kids with behavioral problems inside the system's North Avenue headquarters makes a lot of sense. Rather than simply send these young people home, where they may be under even less supervision than in school, they'll attend an intensive half-day program designed to keep them from falling further behind academically as well as help them sort through the emotional difficulties causing their bad behavior.

Teachers know that it takes only one or two severely disruptive students to derail a classroom, and a relative handful to change the atmosphere of an entire school. Out of 82,000 students in the school system, only about 270 have been expelled or are on long-term suspension on an average day. Those kids deserve help despite their problems; troublesome as they are to teachers and classmates, many of them truly want to turn their lives around but don't know how.

The Success Academy, the name Mr. Alonso has given the new alternative school, offers troubled students a chance to get back on track. Classes are small; the school will enroll two groups of 50 students in four-hour morning or afternoon programs for up to 45 days. That can't possibly make up for all that they're missing in a regular school day - or at home. But it's a positive first step that needs to be expanded until the program is capable of accommodating all the system's suspended and expelled students.

Some may find a perverse irony in the fact that the system's most troublesome students are being embraced by the headquarters staff, as if their poor behavior were being rewarded. But if North Avenue can find a way to get through to these kids and help them straighten out their lives, the benefit will be felt by every school in the system. There are a lot of troubled kids in this city, and we simply can't afford to write them all off.

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