The smell of frying oil enveloped me as I stepped into the central classroom of my school district’s alternative high school. One student flipped pancakes, while another wolfed down browned sausage links. Strawberries, whipped cream, maple syrup, and orange juice had been laid out on the table. Some students pored over notebooks, while one slouched by the window with her smart phone.
I had arrived at the small high school for 18-22 year-old students to begin one of my first assessment cases as a practicum student. It was just my luck that Tuesdays happened to be breakfast day, and there were plenty of pancakes to go around. One student served up the food as I sat and began to meet some of her classmates.
Back in the day, school used to be about the 3 R’s. Remember those? Reading, ‘riting, rithmetic? I mean, they weren’t even spelled right. The 3 R’s are out, and the 3 C’s are in.
In our behavior management class last semester, we talked at length about strategies to prevent at-risk students from dropping out of high school – students not unlike those with whom I was having breakfast. One of the theories that stuck with me was the idea of the 3 C’s. Efforts should be made so that students feel Capable, Connected, and Contributing – these are the fundamental elements that must be in place before reading, writing, and arithmetic can happen.
Weekly breakfasts with staff and students are just one method employed at the school to create a sense of community, foster connection, and give students an active role in contributing to the group. Caring, patient teachers, individualized instruction, attendance monitoring, tutoring, small classes, music breaks, and counseling are also part of the equation. These students struggle with basic academic skills, behavioral and impulse control, and emotional disturbance, among other challenges, but they continue to come to school. And I don’t believe it’s just for the pancakes.