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Teachers at Residential Programs for Teens Take a Specialized Approach to Education
By Meghan Vivo
Therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment programs for teens have a reputation for getting underachieving teens, unmotivated learners, and adolescents with learning disabilities back on track in school. How do they do it?
While a teen’s success at a residential treatment facility can be attributed to a number of sources, including intensive individual, group, and family therapy, opportunities for recreation and social development, and living in a nurturing, structured environment, to name a few, at Aspen Ranch residential treatment program for troubled teens, it is clear that the contributions of teachers and faculty are making a real difference.
Smaller Classes, More Learning Opportunities
Teachers at residential treatment programs and therapeutic boarding schools have chosen a challenging career path. In addition to the usual stresses of teaching, they must constantly adapt their teaching style and approach to the special needs of their students.
Fortunately, small class sizes make this level of individualized attention possible. In classrooms of just 10-12 students (and some as small as 3-4 students), the teachers at Aspen Ranch are able to tailor their lesson plans and teaching strategies to each student.
Some teens may have learning disabilities or attention deficits; others may have emotional or behavioral issues that stand in the way of effective learning; and others may learn best through visual or experiential approaches rather than traditional auditory or verbal techniques.
Because the teachers at Aspen Ranch meet weekly with the program’s therapists and residential staff, every member of the “treatment team” knows the issues each student is facing and teachers are able to adjust their teaching style accordingly. With years of experience working with teens who are struggling with anger, defiance, depression, substance abuse, and other issues, the teachers at Aspen Ranch are well-equipped to get adolescents reinvested in their education.
“Each day brings new challenges and opportunities and chances for me to reach out,” says Jan Brown, the special education director at Aspen Ranch. “I look at each student as an individual. It’s like putting a puzzle together. Once you have the pieces and you know what makes the adolescent unique, you can try new styles and ways of teaching to find what works.”
Every teen at Aspen Ranch has an individual academic plan based on learning style assessments, career choice surveys, and academic goals set by the faculty and parents. Students who express an interest in a particular career path or specialty such as cosmetology, mechanics, culinary arts, or graphic arts are able to explore those interests through field trips and college visits. A counselor also helps college-bound students with their college applications, SAT tests, and admissions requirements.
Working at the Student’s Pace
Smaller class sizes also enable teachers to make special accommodations and modifications in the classroom to make learning easier for teens with special needs. While some students have already been diagnosed with learning disabilities and are receiving appropriate supports, the teachers at Aspen Ranch also provide testing and assessments for students who may be acting out or underachieving academically because of an undiagnosed learning disability.
Whatever the cause of a teen’s academic struggles, learning at Aspen Ranch is self-paced and customized to each teen’s particular strengths and challenges. The teacher starts with basic skills and techniques, which the students build on after they have experienced a few small successes.
“Many of our students have struggled in school for years and have basically given up,” says Ms. Brown. “Once students see that they can actually succeed in school, and have fun while doing it, they gradually reinvest in the learning process.”
In the classrooms at Aspen Ranch, assignments are adapted to each student’s personal interests so the experience is fun and rewarding. In a span of one hour and 20 minutes, the teacher may work with eight different students on eight different projects so that each student can learn at his own pace. In this setting, advanced students aren’t bored in class waiting for the rest of the students to catch up, and students who are struggling promptly get the attention they need.
“By teaching at each teen’s pace, students who are motivated can progress quickly,” explains Weston Taylor, a teacher at Aspen Ranch. “Those who are still struggling to concentrate, behave appropriately, or complete their assignments on time may go slower at first and need extra support, but once it clicks they also can advance quickly.”
With smaller class sizes and more resources, residential treatment centers like Aspen Ranch are able to offer courses that are more experiential in nature. For example, science class could be incorporated into a whitewater rafting trip where students learn about erosion and various plant and wildlife species. Animal science and agriculture may be taught on ranch grounds, where students learn about raising chickens and caring for horses and cattle through hands-on experiences.
“Experiential learning is effective with many types of learners,” says Mr. Taylor. “We find ways to make history, English, science, and other classes interesting again to students with all different styles of learning.”
Teachers with a Purpose
Teachers at residential treatment facilities and therapeutic boarding schools are some of the hardest working, most devoted educators in the field. When teachers are invested in the work they do and have the freedom to customize their teaching approach, they are able to maximize their impact. They spend less time managing classroom behavior and more time investing in each student’s success.
Because students at Aspen Ranch live on-campus and receive a great deal of one-on-one attention, teachers are more than educators – they become positive role models who teach responsible behavior, respect for others, teamwork, and a strong work ethic.
“Coming here is a life-changing event for many teens,” says Theresa Hamks, a special education teacher at Aspen Ranch. “After teaching in public school, it’s rewarding to see teens who once struggled achieve their full potential.”
Because of funding cuts and limited resources, public schools can’t always give struggling teens the time, individualized attention, and treatment they need. The caring, experienced teachers at residential programs for teens are skilled in getting adolescents with emotional, behavioral, or learning problems reinvested in their education and on the path to college and a rewarding career.
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- Teachers at Residential Programs for Teens Take a Specialized Approach to Education
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