At-Risk Children Are Education's Greatest Concern
> 1/24/2007 10:54:22 AM

A new book by a well-known educator, therapist and youth advocatefocuses on the phenomenon of "shadow children," or those who face thegreatest risk of leaving the American education system unprepared forthe outside world. These children can be as different as the members ofany other peer group, but they are commonly defined as more likely tofall into lives defined by economic and social struggle, and they oftenresort to unhealthy relationships, substance abuse and crime asrecourse from their larger problems. Dr. Anthony S. Dallmann-Jones, an expert in at-risk education strategies, outlines his take on the issue and proposes plans of action in a book titled Shadow Children: Education's #1 Problem.Dallmann-Jones is possibly the country's most qualified authority onthe issue: he's been involved with American public schools for morethan forty years, designed the country's first At-Risk EducationMaster's degree program, and founded the National At-Risk Education Network, or NAREN.

In an exclusive web interview,Dallmann-Jones summarizes his work and offers general approaches to theproblem. He asserts that 30% of the American student body qualifies asat-risk and that in the vast majority of these cases, the educationsystem has failed in its most important role: preparing children forsuccess in their school careers and adult lives by providing them withthe social skills, tech literacy, problem solving and money managementskills they so sorely need. Primary fault, he says, lies not only withthe schools themselves but with the juvenile justice system and thesocial service agencies assigned to help children who may be watchingtheir final chances for remediation pass them by.
While many remain critical toward the idea of school-as-childcareinstitution, insisting that the roles of educators do not extend intothe family lives of their students no matter how urgent individualcases may be, Dallman-Jones believes that intervention is a keyobligation that schools owe to the students who attend them. Hesuggests a specially trained at-risk coordinator assigned to each andevery school district in the country. His book includes forms designedto document these children and make for easier organization on the partof the schools, counselors and psychologists involved. And he doesthink that schools and teachers should shoulder a significantpercentage of the burden surrounding family intervention. If a child'shome life is hampering his or her development, a school cannot throw upits hands altogether, and a balance must be achieved between schooldistricts, healthcare professionals and relevant social organizations.At the very least, schools must serve as the foundation andorganizational center of these networks. Stating the obvious,Dallman-Jones speculates that his plan will require increased funding,oversight, and boundless patience. But in his mind, it will all beworth it if we can improve the opportunities of even a small portion ofthese kids. Those who complain about the extra costs of educationshould consider what an even slightly better prepared group of studentswould mean for the larger economic picture.

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