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Meeting Students Where They Are

Age Is Irrelevant

By Joseph Webb, high school teacher, Suitland, Maryland

Students who succumb to the temptation to leave school often see the proverbial light only after it is too late. My experience as an educator includes a quarter-century as an administrator of public schools in the District of Columbia that specialized in multigenerational learning. Although they were called adult education programs, the sole criterion for acceptance was a minimum age of 16, the age at which children were no longer covered by compulsory school attendance laws.

Adolescents enrolled in my school found themselves in classes with students their parents' or even grandparents' age. Students were grouped based on their performance on diagnostic placement tests; ages were irrelevant. In order to meet the students where they were, self-paced learning allowed them to move to higher levels each time they demonstrated mastery of a unit. Only rarely were there any behavior problems because everybody was there voluntarily and because the older students refused to allow any disruptions. The program placed the onus for success where it belongs, squarely upon the shoulders of the student.

Some students will make bad decisions, but we shouldn’t view them as irrevocable. Students who are allowed to return to school often are more focused and committed than their peers who never left the fold. There are times when we must take several steps backward in order to get a running start.