Saturday, December 28, 2002

Suspended students get more than a day of TV

The Associated Press

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio - A girl suspended from her high school for 10 days for recently threatening to beat up another girl at first thought she would stay home and watch television. She ended up in a classroom.

She was placed at the Shaker Heights Youth Center's intensive prevention program in this Cleveland suburb.

An instructor, Yumiko Hauser, gave her paperwork to fill out. Ms. Hauser began drawing out the 18-year-old with questions about her hobbies, favorite school subjects and even a favorite TV program.

The goal was to put the uneasy 11th-grader at ease. The program seeks to identify and help solve issues such as substance abuse and low self-esteem.

"They leave here with some educational knowledge and some self-worth," said Terri Karp, who works with Shaker Heights students from kindergarten through high school. "If you tell these kids they're a failure, it's a prophecy they'll fulfill."

The program is voluntary, with parents choosing whether they want to send their children, and rules at the center are similar to those at school. Students must be in the classroom by 8 a.m. and leave at 2:50 p.m.

Talk too much and the instructor starts taking away privileges, such as breaks and lunch. Act up, and the student must leave.

Ms. Hauser said few students have been kicked out of the program, though tempers sometimes flare. Students who fought each other at school might both come to the center. But usually the interruptions are minor.

Ms. Hauser forwards behavioral reports and assignments to a suspended student's school. A day spent at the center counts as an excused absence.

Last year, 200 students attended the program, and 80 percent of them were not suspended again, according to Mary Bazie, associate director of the youth center. School employees tell parents about the program at the suspension hearing.

"We see it as a system failure when they're not in the classroom," said James Paces, curriculum director for the Shaker Heights schools.

The program began after Edrice Ivory, director of the Shaker Heights Library, noticed students spending full days in the library building. Most of them told her they had been suspended and had no other place to go. Their parents did not want them home alone.

Ms. Ivory approached the school district, which agreed that suspended students could benefit from a program where they could spend the day learning.

"I thought it'd be a place with tile floors and a big hall and people who would be unfriendly," an eighth-grade boy said recently about the program. "But it wasn't like that. People here will help you."

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