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Case Study: Reclaiming At-Risk Youth for the 21st Century Workplace

by Marge Christensen

Table of Contents

History of the Program

The Problem

Today education, business, and government are working together on projects, programs, and strategies to prepare today's students to become productive, qualified workers in the 21st century employment arena. This is critical: projections indicate that for at least the next ten years and perhaps even further into the future than that, our nation's economy will create virtually no new jobs for those who lack basic skills.

As new technologies and management styles are implemented, the workplace is becoming increasingly complex, requiring more skills and competencies in our workers. Businesses are finding it more and more difficult to find qualified workers to handle these jobs.

As companies and industries have retooled and modernized to keep pace with technology, many have attempted to train their workers for new jobs. However, in many instances employers are finding that the transition to new technological tasks is almost impossible if employees are not prepared in certain basic skills. James Burke, Chairman of Johnson & Johnson, emphasizes the urgency of the situation: "Our people can't be properly trained unless they are first adequately educated. . . . We are running out of time and no less than the future of the nation is at stake."

The problem is further compounded by the fact that the national dropout rate in most of our inner cities is 25%, and it is estimated that 35-40% of students in grades K–12 in the U.S. today are at risk of failing and not graduating from high school. In addition, consider the following national statistics on illiteracy:

According to a U.S. Dept. of Education study, released in Sept., 1993, almost half of the 191 million adults in the U.S. do not have the literacy skills necessary to write a business letter, complete a job application, or read and comprehend a newspaper. The study concluded that current reading and writing skills in the U.S. are not keeping pace with the kinds of skills required for today's workplace and civic activities, such as jury duty.

  • 75% of the unemployed are non-readers.
  • 1 out of 3 mothers on AFDC cannot read.
  • 40% of illiterates in the U.S. fall between the ages of 20 and 39.
  • An additional 2.3 million illiterates are added to the ranks of the illiterates annually.
  • 65% of prisoners cannot read.
  • 85% of juvenile offenders are functionally illiterate.

In the past, lack of education doomed one to a life of hard labor. In this decade and in the 21st century, it will be even worse—a sentence to unemployment. We are already seeing the results of this as we witness the escalating numbers of families living at or below the poverty level.

While it is true that the nation's crime rate is beginning to decrease, it is also true that the rate of juvenile crime is actually increasing at a frighteningly rapid rate. Because the teenage population will double in the next few years, it is feared that the juvenile crime rate will continue to spiral upward and out of control. As long as millions of young people are growing up in neighborhoods with rampant crime and horrendous living conditions, and as long as the majority of these young people have no positive adult role models, there is little hope for things to change for the better.

Educate Now or Pay Later

Our choice as a nation is abundantly clear. We can pay now to educate these young people in ways that prepare them to obtain the types of jobs that will allow them to experience dignity, and will give them hope of a better future for themselves and their families, or we can ignore the situation and pay a much greater price later on, when these young people turn to lives of crime as the only option they perceive for making a living.

In most states, the cost of incarcerating a juvenile for one year is about seven times greater than the cost of educating that young person for one year. If we begin now to institute preventive measures, such as the program described in this case study, we can decrease the amount we have to pay for building prisons a few years from now.

This is not a new argument. Although it is often verbalized, it is rarely acted upon. The good news is that there is a workable solution. The most constructive and cost effective long-term strategy is for justice departments, education departments and school districts to join forces in addressing this issue.

The Supreme Court of the State of Arizona recognized this over ten years ago, in 1985, when the Court became interested in joining in the battle against illiteracy. Today, the Arizona Supreme Court LEARN Project (Literacy Education and Reading Network) includes 39 LEARN Centers statewide. In Aug., 1987, I was privileged to be asked to help develop the program and curriculum for the Court's very first LEARN Center, established at Catalina High School, an inner city high school in Tucson. The history of the LEARN Project and of the Court's involvement in combating illiteracy follows below.

Illiteracy in Arizona

A 1982 Census Bureau study ranked Arizona 25th among states in its literacy rate. The study estimated that there were over 250,000 functional illiterates in Arizona, and also indicated that 58% of adult welfare recipients and 85% of prisoners in Arizona at that time were high school dropouts. Then, in 1985, Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt and Superintendent of Public Instruction, Carolyn Warner, addressed this issue by establishing the Joint Task Force on Adult Literacy. Estimating that there were 400,000 functionally illiterate persons in Arizona, the Task Force studied ways to prevent illiteracy. They investigated what the State and private sector could do to enhance public awareness of the problem as part of a long-term strategy to reduce adult illiteracy.

Following publication of the Governor's Task Force report in 1987, the Arizona Supreme Court became interested in joining in the battle against illiteracy. The Court's interest was, and continues to be, to reduce the number of adults and adolescents who become involved with the criminal justice system. The Court contended that unless people are capable of reading and writing at a level that enables them to hold a job, read a newspaper, or observe traffic signs, their chances of being productive members of society are very limited.

Mr. Dave Byers, Deputy Director for the Administrative Offices of the Courts (AOC), viewed literacy training as not only an important rehabilitative measure for integrating offenders back into society, but also as an effective deterrent in keeping potential youth offenders out of the criminal justice system. With this in mind, the state's commitment to literacy was to include both adults and adolescents.

In reviewing effective literacy programs for statewide implementation, a team of juvenile and adult chief probation officers, program managers, and educators visited a Principle of the Alphabet Literacy System (PALS) lab in Southern California. PALS is an IBM software program that teaches basic literacy skills. Impressed with the response from students, teachers, and administrators, the Court agreed to implement PALS at various sites throughout Arizona.

The Solution

In August, 1987, the first PALS lab was installed at Catalina High School, an inner city high school in Tucson. The plan was to install six labs around the state, evaluate the results in 1988, and then double the number of labs until 25 or 30 literacy labs each served about 100 students daily.

Financed through a statutory fund intended to decrease juvenile crime, the program is sponsored by the Arizona Supreme Court's Administrative Offices of the Court (AOC). In each county in Arizona, the Adult and Juvenile Probation Departments serve as the focal point for program planning and coordination. In addition to literacy instruction, the curriculum at each site includes basic skills, job skills, and in the case of the adult labs, GED preparation.

Some of the goals established by the Court were to:

  • Reduce crime committed by adults and juveniles through improved literacy skills;
  • Reduce high school drop out rates through improved literacy training for high-risk adolescents;
  • Improve offenders' successful completion of court probation through training in job skills.
  • Deter others from becoming involved with the court system through improved literacy training.

The Court's initial investment for each lab was approximately $65,000 for a 16-student lab. Basically, the Court provided (and continues to provide) the equipment and software, some staff development, and teacher support. Each site is responsible for providing staff salaries and the lab facility itself, its supplies and furnishings—which must be designed as a professional office setting.

While the Court's investment in this statewide literacy project may appear costly, Dave Byers feels that the investment is more than justified when compared to the costs of supporting and administering correction programs. In Arizona, it costs more than $20,000 per year to incarcerate an adult, and more than $30,000 per year to incarcerate a juvenile. Our state spends more than $100 million every three years on new prison construction. In 1987, when the Court entered the literacy business, 45,000 juveniles were arrested and referred annually to Arizona's juvenile courts. Today, in 1996, that number has skyrocketed, as juvenile crime continues to spiral upward nationally.

Partnership Funding

In keeping its commitment to literacy education in Arizona, the Court has instituted a system of partnerships to share costs, and to identify populations in need of literacy training. In 1990, the Court's literacy project was renamed the LEARN Project (Literacy Education and Reading Network). Its current 39 LEARN Centers are supported through partnerships between the Arizona Supreme Court and public high schools, adult basic education centers, Urban League, community colleges, county adult and juvenile probation offices, public libraries, literacy volunteer organizations, prisons, etc.

First LEARN Center

As mentioned, the first Arizona Supreme Court literacy center was set up in Tucson at Catalina High School. It is the program at this LEARN Center that is the subject of this case study. I was fortunate enough to help initiate this program in 1987, and then to design the curriculum and additional components.

Catalina High School is located in Pima County, which has the lowest graduation rate in the state of Arizona—about 57%. An inner city school, 53% of Catalina's population is comprised of various ethnic groups; 47% are Anglo. More than 70% of our students are living at or below the poverty level, and we have identified more than 200 of them as homeless. During the 1993-94 school year, the school's dropout rate was at 27%. 325 of our students are bussed in from three areas that have the highest crime rate and highest gang activity in Tucson, according to the Tucson Police Dept. Approximately 70% of our 1300 students are classified as being "at-risk." It is because of these demographics that Catalina was selected.

Target Population

Our target populations for the Catalina High School LEARN Center include:

  • students reading at or below the 5th grade level;
  • ESL students who are falling behind their English speaking counterparts;
  • students on probation and parole;
  • those living in poverty;
  • dropouts returning to school;
  • students from dysfunctional families;
  • homeless teens and teens living on their own.

Hopelessness and Crime

The problems of poverty are complex. Because the poor are often trapped in inner city or poor rural neighborhoods, they are subject to violence, gang influence, drugs, and a vast array of social problems. As if enduring the difficulties of poverty alone were not enough, the poor have the burden of coping with all of these overwhelming issues simultaneously. For many young people, this leads to a sense of hopelessness.

This often erodes their self-esteem; they give up on themselves and on any chance for a better life. In my experience teaching these inner city kids, this has been the saddest thing I have observed. Just as they are approach- ing their adult lives, they are already giving up on themselves and on the world. Yet, if you consider their worlds and their perceptions of life from their vantage points, this is not surprising.

Whether we lose these young people physically, through dropping out, or we lose them mentally and emotionally, as they become convinced that they will not make it in today's mainstream America, the outcome is predictable: they become easy prey for those who are only too glad to enlist them in a host of criminal and violent activities.

The following was written by a student who was in my class for only about two weeks before he was back in juvenile court, and then transferred to juvenile detention facility. On his first day of class, I asked Ernest to write a paragraph or two and tell me about himself. Though poorly written, Ernest's paragraph is a powerful example of this social tragedy.

"First of all I would like to stay out of jail. I would like to chang my life. I would like to get a nice job so when I have kides I can soport them. I'm tierd of being locked up. this time I'm going to do my best not going back there agan. I'm going tyr not to steel anybotty cars or brakiong in to house and having guns on me. I hope that I can stay out for ever and ever. I every thing to go fine for me. I feel happy that I'm out. I did not like it not one bit. I was all ways fighting. All ways in loocked doun. but I hope to do good now."

Ernest personifies the seriousness of a 3-part crisis facing our nation today: 1) Employment is becoming highly technical; the requirements for qualified applicants are becoming much more demanding. 2) There are millions of teens and adults like Ernest, who lack basic skills and will have no chance for obtaining employment. 3) Unable to obtain employment, many of them, like Ernest, turn to a life of crime.

As we all admit, this is disastrous to our society. Employers can't find enough qualified applicants, and worry about their ability to be competitive in today's global economy. Millions of young people like Ernest need help in developing skills necessary for success in the workplace, but only find discouragement in a traditional classroom setting. They become angry, frustrated people, with little or no self-esteem, and a powerful sense of hopelessness. Finally, criminal opportunists are only too happy to introduce the Ernests of the world to illegal means of making money.

Before long, these young people and adults become involved in a life of crime. The rate of juvenile crime spirals upward, leaving many innocent citizens as victims in its ruthless path. Also, the Ernests of the world burden the taxpayers by overloading our corrections system and institutions. This creates a vicious cycle in which everyone loses.

If the billions of dollars spent annually to build prisons could instead be spent on prevention programs such as the Catalina High School LEARN Center, it would create a win/win situation for business, the community, the nation, and our citizens.

In contrast to Ernest, Oscar, whose quote follows, embodies the win/win potential of the preventive approach. Now in his third year with Project LEARN, Oscar is typical of the students in our target population. He was at risk of becoming involved with the criminal justice system, but having acquired competencies and complex skills, Oscar is on track for becoming a productive 21st century worker.

"The difference between this class and the other classes is that this is not a class. To most of the students it is like a mini office. We can work at our own pace but we still have dead- lines. Like in a job you have to work your own way to the top. It is like that here you have to go through some touch screens. Then we do some touch typing, and finally you can work on the essays the other students are doing that have been here longer. It is like a training process for the real work world.
"... These computers and this class has changed my life. I'm more interested in computers and would want a career in computers. I'm more interested in knowing what the world has to offer and making a change for the world today."

Program Demographics

Gender distribution of our target population has remained fairly constant, averaging 66% male; 34% female. With minor fluctuations, ethnicity has also remained fairly constant as follows: Mexican Americans, 48%; Anglo Americans, 32%; African Americans, 6%; Asian Americans, 10%; Native Americans, 2%; and others, 2%. At any one time, about 10% of our students fall into the category of youth living on their own. ESL students comprise 25% of our target population.

Almost all of our students enter the program reading at or below the 5th grade equivalent in reading comprehension. When we pre-tested 86 new students for entrance in the 1995-96 school year, over 60% of these scored a grade equivalent of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade level in reading comprehension on the Stanford Diagnostic Reading Test (form G). In phonetic analysis they scored at grade equivalents of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade on the Stanford Diagnostic Reading Test.

Admission Criteria

Students admitted to the program are selected on the basis of several criteria. Eligible candidates:

  • test at or below a 5th grade reading level on the Stanford Diagnostic Reading Test.
  • are on probation or are involved with the criminal justice system.
  • are dropouts returning to school.
  • are those referred by teachers because they are unable to read the classroom texts.
  • are those not succeeding in their classes although they are exerting a serious effort.
  • are ESL students who are behind their English-speaking counterparts as a result of their lack of English proficiency.
  • are those whose reading scores are above the 5th grade level, but whose writing skills are extremely poor.

In situations where students test above the 5th grade level, but are nevertheless 3 or 4 years or more below grade level in reading performance, they are admitted to the program only if there is space available. In general, the Arizona Supreme Court has intended the program to serve any student who is deemed "at risk" of failure in school and who may, as a result, end up in the criminal justice system.

A Research-Based Program

By some estimates, 35–40% of K–12 students in the United States today are at-risk of failing and/or dropping out. To succeed in school, this population needs a special kind of attention. I have incorporated the following research findings to ensure their success in our program:

At-risk students profit from learning experiences that require them to take initiative and responsibility, and are perceived by them as having integrity and dignity, with opportunity to feel successful and competent.

In our LEARN Center, the learning environment is a professional office setting where the students are professional workers and the teacher is manager/facilitator. Students entering the program are required to sign a behavior contract, which their parents or guardians must also sign. From that day on, the student is required to take responsibility for coming into the room, getting his/her materials, going to a computer, and getting on task.

In their first year, students are graded on how well they take responsibility for their own progress, as well as for attendance, attitude, and grades on weekly essays. Personal and social responsibility is greatly emphasized.

Although content in the initial semesters focuses on basic literacy skills, our three-year program advances students through increasingly complex software; reading; essay writing; research papers; writing for the world of work; career research and exploration; senior projects; employability portfolios; and some public speaking.

Through experience with their mentors, most students will also:

  • spend time career shadowing,
  • tour college campuses,
  • participate in mock job interviews,
  • and discuss their future goals and plans with their mentors.

All of these experiences enhance a student's sense of dignity, competence, and success. For some, this is the first time they have experienced these feelings.

In the classroom office setting, students are continuously reminded that they are now "professional office workers," and that they must behave with respect toward one another, toward the equipment, and toward their workplace in general. As I have worked with at-risk students in this setting, I have observed that when students develop pride in their workplace, it soon translates into pride in their work, and finally into pride in themselves.

The following student comments underscore the research finding that when students perceive the learning experiences as having integrity and dignity, they experience greater success and competency.

CARMEN—"This class is so different because all of the students can work at there own pase. No one has to hurry up and do there work unless they fall way behind. What's nice is that we get to take our time when we are doing our work and we get to think about it and do it carefully and right. The computers also help me for some reason to do my work because I love to type. This class has made me realize that I should do my work and try my best because I can make something out of my self if I try."
TRACY—"The class is set up as an office. This works better because students can get a better feeling about how it's like to work in a real job, I think that the setting makes students feel more at home in a office than in a classroom. One of the main reasons that most students like this class is because we're able to work at our own pace. For a lot of people it's hard to work under so much preassure. In this class I can work slowly and concentrate on what I'm doing and doing it right instead of just trying to get it done."
AARON—"I like it a lot better than a regular class because it doesn't really seem like your in a classroom. It kind of feels like your at a job. I like the office setting because it actually looks like a job instead of a classroom so you don't even feel like you're at school. The student's role in this class is to come into class, and get right to work as if he or she were working at a real job... I think this program has helped me a lot with my reading and writing skills because before I came in here, I used to not be able to write a lot on just one thing, but now I can do that a little bit better than I could before."
MARIAELENA—"When you walk into this classroom, you'd think you just walked into an office... Just like an office is run, so is this classroom. Your expected to be on time to class, and your subpost to call in when you'll be absent to work/class.

"Here in this classroom one is treated with respect and not like future delinquents. Here we are given the chance to act as employees, rather then students. I think this is a very good way to learn how one should act at the workplace. Our teacher is more like the employer. I feel that being treated like this it makes us feel more important, and I think that's what makes us want to come to class, and do the work expected of us. Everyone in the class works at their own pace and cince everyone is doing their own thing, there's no intimidation.

"... Everybody in class gets along very well. There's never any rude remarks to one another, and everyone treats each other with respect. The classroom is vey quiet, and if you need help, you can ask another student or one of the aides here in the class. I feel that in all the classes I have, I can accomplish more in here then I would in other classes. In this class I have learned how to write better and read and that of course has helps me a lot in my other classes"

Remedial instruction has failed to raise students' level of performance. Rather, it has slowed students down, partly because of low teacher expectations.

The word "remedial" is never used in reference to this program. Remedial instruction is actually detrimental to these students, and does not improve their level of academic performance. Students do not perceive a remedial program as an opportunity to experience dignity or competence. The very term "remedial" is a stigma in any literacy effort, and causes students to feel stupid and not valued. Low teacher expectations in a remedial program leads students to exert only a minimal effort. After all, that's all anyone appears to be expecting of them.

Perception is Everything

When our program was initiated in 1987, students did not know quite what to expect, and it took some work to eradicate the perception of a "literacy program." There were some students who refused to sit anywhere in the room where they could be seen from the doorway. Their perception of the LEARN Center was that it was a "special program," something they did not want anyone to know about.

Changing this perception has taken some time, and we've done all we could to project an image of being "cool" and "challenging" and "adult." I think we've succeeded: for the past six or seven years, students have brought in their classmates who are having difficulty with English, and referred them to us. Students often refer themselves to the program. Just about any time during the school year, we have a waiting list of 75-100 students hoping for a space to become available so they can be admitted.

The element of school climate that correlates highest with student achievement is teacher expectation.

This finding supports the previous one regarding remedial approaches to teaching at-risk students. As Jaime Escalante stated in the film, "Stand and Deliver," students tend to rise or fall to the level of teacher expectations. I am a firm believer in this principle, reminding my students continuously that I believe they can and will achieve those expectations. As assignments become more difficult, I unceasingly express my confidence in their ability to do the work, and that they will be successful. The professional office environment supports this end. I'm repeatedly telling students that I insist on quality work, even if it means several revisions and rewrites, because I want them to succeed in the real world of employment.

This setting also allows for a high level of student/teacher interaction, so that the teacher can make sure each student is able to complete the work to the very best of his or her ability. To help each student rise to his or her highest potential has been the goal of our program from the beginning.

The most successful teaching strategies are those that raise students' self-esteem.

We place great emphasis in our program on the development of self-esteem and social and personal responsibility. There have been some criticisms recently, especially on the part of some political conservatives, regarding this emphasis on the development of self-esteem. Their claim is that emphasizing self-esteem is at the expense of quality, leading to a decline in standards.

I think it is crucial to emphasize at this point, that people develop self-esteem as a result of accomplishing something worthwhile, or by significantly improving their level of academic achievement. Lasting self-esteem is not gained from a teacher simply telling a student that he or she is a neat person.

When we hold high expectations for students, encouraging and gently pushing them to reach their highest potentials—this is what develops self-esteem.

This certainly has been the case with students in our program. It incorporates numerous experiences and strategies to support students in producing very professional, complex projects of which they are proud. These include Employability Skills Portfolios, a newspaper front page for 100 years from now; research papers, original magazine covers and feature articles; a school of the future project. Students also assume roles allowing them to earn respect from an audience of readers, peers, or adult visitors to the classroom. At the culmination of the school year, students present speeches at our annual Celebrate Literacy Evening. The entire program promotes achievement and self-esteem.

Cooperative Learning is one learning system that has proven successful with all learning styles, all student populations, all subject areas, and all levels of ability.

During students' first two years in our program, they learn to become independent, responsible, self-directed learners. In their third year, they become team players. Through cooperative learning activities and projects, they develop interpersonal skills, increase self-esteem, and become more confident. Cooperative learning requires students to teach one another—and the best way to learn something, is, of course, to teach it. Incidently, one of the skills listed by the U.S. Dept. of Labor as being necessary for the 21st century worker is: Teaches Others.

Our population in the U.S. today is multicultural; cooperative learning is an excellent system for teaching students to get along with others who may be different. Students not only gain self-esteem from cooperative learning activities, they also learn to respect others.

Another important point is that cooperative learning places responsibility on students. As mentioned earlier, at-risk students respond positively to situations that place responsibility on them, allowing them to experience a sense of dignity.

The following comments from students provide insight about the climate of classrooms with cooperative learning:

MILTON—"The students actually work cooperatively; we help each other. There are some rules we have in this place: The most important is that every student has work to do, so everybody has to work. Another is that when you come in you have to obey some rules that the teacher has; take off your hat, because here we are as an office worker, not as student. You have to pick up after yourself, so the place around you won't be dirty. Our teacher is a manager, so the work she does here is to teach us, and then give us real letters and essays to do. When I came here to the U.S., I did not even know much about computers, and writing essays. I didn't even know how to start it, and now I am learning how to do a lot of more things that I never thought I could learn."
CARMEN—"A really good thing about this class is that all the students get along in here and are all help full to one another. It usually is not like that in most regular classes, if you need help you have to ask the teacher. But in this class, if a student needs help someone is always there to take the time to help, even if it is another student."
JESSICA—"In this class everybody knows everybody. The students are nice and this class is really a quiet one. We all respect each other and everybody does his or her work. If for some reason you can't make it to class then you have the responsibility of calling the teacher and informing her that you can't make it to class. The teacher's role is to make sure that everybody is quiet and is doing their work and that everyone is prepared to be all that they can be in the real world of opportunity. This class got me thinking about my future and what I want to do when I get older. It's pretty cool."
LUPITA—"The students that are in this class work with respect, and they work quietly. We are not students in this class and the teacher is not a teacher, she is our manager. This class is very different from the other classes that I have, because in the other classes students are talking, and they don't have respect for the teacher or for the other students. The other teachers give a lot of instructions and the students don't pay attention to them. I like this class and I would like that the other classes were like this one.
"In this class the students work, but sometimes they ask for help from another student when the teacher or the assistant is busy. We are cooperative with the other students we have to help each other and we know each other. All the students that are in this class are cooperative. They are not the same like the other classes. In the other classes we ask for help from another student and they say, "I don't know. Ask the teacher. The only think that the teacher told us (in this class) is that if we are going to help a student with some work, we have to telling about the work, but we can't do the work for them."
VERONICA—"Students in this class get along with everyone else which is different than any of my other classes. Everyone helps out one another when help is needed. Students respect one another when help is needed. Students respect one another in this class. I only wish that people can respect each other outside of the classroom."

Most potential dropouts need physical involvement in the learning process.

At-risk students tend to learn better in situations where they play an active rather than a passive role. Because our office setting simulates the workplace, students are free to get up and move around. They are responsible for getting their diskettes, printing their reports, returning their folders to the files, and handing in their work. Also, they are responsible for cleaning the monitors and desks. On occasion, visitors come to our office, and it is the students who lead the tours. I find this to be a much more effective method of teaching than placing them in straight rows of chairs with a teacher in front of them lecturing.

Speaking of visitors, I discovered that if you restructure your classroom, and your program is successful, there is a great deal of interest or curiosity from other school districts, the media, professors of education, community organizations, teachers and administrators from your own district, personnel from the Department of Justice, community colleges, adult basic education centers, and employers. During the first six years of our program's existence, we held annual open houses and invited people from all of these groups. Since 1987 when we began our program, we've had over 900 visitors. Students love to give tours, telling visitors the program works, and how it is different from a regular classroom. And this is just one more way for students to be physically involved in their education.

The mentor experience affords them further opportunities for physical involvement in the learning process, since they must go to various sources to research a career, and then spend time doing career shadowing.

A high percentage of potential dropouts are motivated by a sense of fun.

Several software programs in our curriculum involve some sort of game, and provide a sense of fun. All of the programs in the Carmen SanDiego series as well as the Sim City programs use games and are fun to use, while being highly educational at the same time.

Also, assuming the role of professional office workers, and doing real world kinds of work, using computers is fun for most students. This is the generation that was weaned on electronic instruction with video games and television.

Student achievement correlates with direct communication from educators on the importance of attendance, the importance of education, the expectation of success.

In a course designed to prepare students to succeed in the 21st century workplace, the importance of attendance and of continuing one's education cannot be overemphasized. Indeed, attendance is so important, that I include it in the contract each student must sign upon entering the program. Attendance is one of the criteria upon which grades are based. And if students are absent, they are required to call their "office classroom" and notify the teacher, just as they would if they were calling their employers to notify them of their absence. Excessively absent students may not remain in the program. They are placed into regular English classes so that students on the waiting list may fill those spaces.

Education is a crucial requisite for those entering the technological workforce. Lifelong learning will be a way of life for all of us, and especially for those students preparing now to enter the workforce of the next century. In our LEARN Center English classes, students hear this frequently from me and from our volunteers and technicians. Also, in our evening courses for parents and other adults, we emphasize that continuing education is a necessity. Students get this message constantly.

As mentioned previously, I set high expectations for my students and let them know that I am confident that they can successfully achieve those expectations. This has a definite correlation with their performance. It is critically important, because at-risk students tend to attribute their success or failure to luck, chance, "the teacher doesn't like me," and factors outside themselves over which they have no control.

Sometimes referred to as the "motivation theory of attribution," it is also known as "external locus of control." In contrast, students who have learned the concept of cause and effect understand that their actions cause certain effects. These students are developing an "internal locus of control." They know that if they study and work hard, they will probably do well; and if they do not do any work, they will fail.

Most at-risk students have an external locus of control, and are oblivious to his concept. Because of this, it is vital that teachers and staff constantly express to them the importance of such things as attendance, hard work, good attitude, and the importance of education in general. What is obvious to teachers is not always obvious to at-risk students.


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