The focus of our treatment is trusting relationship, and school provides another venue in which students can experience trusting relationships. When our teachers work with students, this is the basis of their work.
Our first priority is establishing that relationship. As I tell my teachers: it is not about the content of the curriculum, but the content of our relationships that will enable us to teach a curriculum. Because we are treating early childhood developmental trauma, our students often have had such deep difficultly with school that creating those trusting relationships often leads us to individualize our approaches.
Let me illustrate this process by telling a story about one of our students. Fred came to CALO in a wheel chair, following an accident he had. Fred had been through a number of schools, some of them boarding schools, where he had not done well. Adopted from Russia at 7, he had some language and processing issues, but mostly a deep distrust of teachers. So, even though he spent his first 10 weeks with us in a wheel chair, we could not physically roll him into a classroom. He used all of his considerable upper body strength to push himself back from the classroom door. He would not go to school.
While he was refusing to go to school, however, he was developing a relationship with one of the coaches who worked with his team of boys. So, I invited Fred and this coach into my office and proposed that the coach help Fred 1:1 with his assignments for just one class. Fred chose science because he liked the subject matter, and worked with the coach for just that one class. The teacher worked with Fred to produce PowerPoints as Fred?s assessment piece, because Fred liked Powerpoints. After a few weeks of Fred working 1:1 with the coach, we asked if Fred could go to the science class with the coach and sit in the class. Fred agreed, and we slowly moved him into other classes, and finally into all of his classes. So, after just about a year Fred was attending all his classes and getting passing grades.
You can see how individualized this is compared to conventional school, and it was effective in helping Fred.
Why was it effective? It was effective because we:
- Made a commitment to helping Fred become more comfortable with school, even when he didn?t want to have anything to do with it.
- Accepted his fear and anxiety about school.
- Provided Security for him by shrinking down the task and giving him a safe relationship to work within.
- Attuned with him and guided him into other experiences when he was ready for them.