DECATUR – When students are suspended from Decatur schools, they are allowed to make up the work they miss when they return to class.
For example, if they were suspended for 10 days, they have 10 school days to turn in the missed work.
But that can seem a daunting task for a child, and that's why Old Kings Orchard Community Center has come up with an idea that might help.
This semester, suspended students from Stephen Decatur Middle School and MacArthur High School can come to the center from noon to 3 p.m., get lunch and help catching up on that missed work, as well as guidance in correcting the behavior issues that led to being suspended.
“One of the things that our board really tried to focus on this year is seeing ourselves as sort of an incubator,” said OKO board President Alida Graham. “We don't have a state or national organization we have to run things through or that dictate what we do here. So that's sometimes a burden for us, because we're not as well-known and fundraising is sometimes difficult. The blessing is that we're small, and we're agile.”
That means, she said, that when the board wants to try an experiment, they can, and they can change their procedures at a moment's notice if something isn't working. While talking of ways to help kids in Decatur, suspensions came up.
Because suspended students are not allowed on school grounds, someone else has to pick up their packets of assignments, usually a parent. But if the parent signs paperwork for OKO volunteers, they can pick up the assignments, and they'll be able to accompany the student back to school the first day they return for a re-entry meeting.
The Ullrich Foundation and the Hardy Foundation are funding the project, and the principals at the two pilot schools will notify suspended students of this option when the discipline is handed down, Graham said.
When faced with the prospect of making up several days' work while still keeping up with daily assignments, kids often feel “defeated,” said Megan Meyrick, who thought of the program. Without encouragement and support, many probably won't even try to make up the work, and their grades will plummet. Once they start failing, she said, it's harder and harder to recover.
“You're beaten before you've started,” said board member Bea Hall.
A key component of OKO's initiative is to work with the student to identify the behavior and the root causes behind getting suspended, to prevent the behavior from happening again. For this to work, Graham said, they need for the students to be the kind of kid who doesn't want to be suspended, who wants to succeed and is willing to work. Parents must be ready to be an integral part of the process.
“We want to provide the student with a support system for meaningful change,” Graham said.