iCARE, Part Three: Helping Troubled Students Care

Guest post by Thomas Kachadurian

Two weeks ago, I introduced you to iCARE, and last week, I shared how this initiative has helped to unite our school community. In this final post, I will explore how iCARE has changed the way we work with our most difficult students.

In 2014, I inherited a unique sophomore class. Within the class there was a particular group of sophomores who were regarded as a notable challenge and needed a lot of TLC. As I got to know them, I realized that only a few of them were truly challenging and the rest were just looking to carve new titles for themselves among their peers. I hadn’t realized it yet, but iCARE was to become a saving factor for many of them and their sophomore academic and social careers.

One of the most important lessons I have learned through our iCARE program is this: Connect with the disenfranchised and the marginalized as much as you connect with the highly motivated, high-end achievers; find a place to bring them together and build relationships toward common goals.

I took this idea and devised a different approach for how to work with the behavioral struggles of this sophomore class. Instead of assigning the typical punishments—lunch detentions, after-school detentions, Saturday detentions, and internal suspensions—I decided to insert the students with the most chronic behavioral issues into iCARE-related work.

With the support of these students’ parents, I assigned them to attend Wednesday iCARE meetings, signed them up for volunteering opportunities, created internships for them to work with special needs students, and got them involved with Best Buddies or Unified Sports, all in the hope of influencing them in a new direction entirely.

Instead of enduring some form of detention-style punishment, they worked hard at making a difference through their strengths. It quickly became a source of pride for them. They belonged, they were appreciated, they were respected in this new forum, and they were making a visible and tangible difference. And most important, they very rarely got in trouble in classes or with peer-related issues. The year began with a high number of conflicts and physical altercations, but by midyear, we saw a dramatic decrease.

We realized that creating experiences where students can learn the feelings associated with accomplishment, pride, integrity, creation, and compassion was key to iCARE’s success. The students in this class discovered their own strengths, and from those strengths came achievement, and from that achievement came a genuine feeling of self-worth. They felt true pride in accomplishing something that contributed to the success of the program and school.

Suddenly, countless individuals were positively engaged and positively reinforced. Kids felt good about themselves and that affected how they approached their academics, relationships with adults, and relationships with peers. It’s almost like they became equipped with a new form of problem-solving to address the same old issues with which they typically struggled. What changed is their perspective and subsequently the way in which they handled these situations.

How have you reached your most challenging students? Could an approach like iCARE help them find meaning in school again?

Thomas Kachadurian is an associate principal at Colonie Central High School in Albany, NY. He was the 2017 New York Assistant Principal of the Year.

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