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ChalleNGing Education

October 29th, 2007 by Steven Gardner
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This is the view from the bunks on day one at the Oregon Youth Challenge program. A similar school will begin in Bremerton in January 2009. Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

Sunday’s story and slideshow Oregon Program Gives Window Into Bremerton’s Planned Youth Academy shows what will be in place in Bremerton in 2009.

But let’s consider the broader education questions. A school like this becomes useful because even the rosiest of estimates pin graduation rates between 80 and 85 percent. Most studies have it closer to 70 percent.

Whatever the number, between 15 and 30 percent of high school kids don’t graduate. The numbers are worse for minorities. Enter the National Guard Youth Challenge program. At 200 kids a year per state, more or less, it won’t solve the problem by itself.

Of course, some bristle at the methods. One commenter on the story said it “Looks like a Hitler youth camp.” That’s true, if you believe everything military equals Hitler. Others might object more reasonably. Those who support it, though, point to the Youth Challenge’s emphasis on educating the whole child. They don’t stick to the basics, necessarily, but they don’t overlook them either. In fact, by stressing over details like how to brush teeth and fold clothes, it becomes about as basic an educational experience as you can get.

Another irony of the program is that while it improves the educational status of the students involved, it does little in terms of meeting No Child Left Behind standards, because those call for improvement from year to year. Since you have a different batch coming into the school twice a year, the stats are not going to change much. It could have a positive impact on WASL scores, simply because more kids would be passing.

The other issue is that this clearly does not fit the traditional model for school education. That’s a problem if school officials resist. Terry Bergeson, the state’s superintendent of public instruction has been to the school in Bend, so there is acceptance here. That school’s founder, Mike Caldwell, said in Oregon there was initially resistance from state educators. “You’re not educators,” the establishment said. Caldwell readily agreed. The school contracted educators and does still. The Guard doesn’t seem to be meeting that resistance here. The Bremerton School District will likely be the education provider.

You can look at a school like this by itself, recognize it for what it does (good or bad) and have the discussion within that singular context. But I wonder if this school doesn’t raise broader questions about education. Are there other school models that don’t get the support this one does? How about the resistance to language immersion (particularly Spanish) that surfaced here when Bremerton announced it was beginning its program.

It was 13 years ago when Oregon started its Youth Challenge program. When Washington has its school up and going, there will still be 18 other states that do not. Does a solution like this always take that long to move? If so, why?

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One Response to “ChalleNGing Education”

  1. Gordon E. Bemrose Says:

    Is anyone surprised that our public schools are declining in enrollment? There are so many other ways to get a son or daughter a better education. I have a niece and nephew, the niece is a public school teacher at South Kitsap High School who is sending her two children to a private school in order for them to get a GOOD education.

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