Hope in Action
Change is sometimes difficult but it can lead to something amazing.
In this month’s issue, read about a program at our Secure Custody facility that’s teaching troubled youth the characteristics they need to grow into responsible adults. Then, learn how Welcome Home is transforming to provide expanded care for refugees.
As always, we are grateful for your support as Ray of Hope changes and grows, just like the people you help us serve.
Character in the classroom
Josh’s* first day in the classroom in Ray of Hope’s Secure Custody program didn’t go well. Each day, students in the program earn scores out of 10, based on everything from how well they follow directions to whether or not they use classroom-appropriate language. But within 45 minutes of starting class that day, Josh’s score was hovering around 1 out of 10.
“He was being disruptive to everyone around him, and at that point, the classroom became a little unsafe,” says Joel, one of the Waterloo Region District School Board teachers who run the education program at Secure.
Josh was asked to leave the classroom and when Joel attempted to speak with him after class, Josh went ballistic.
“It was probably two to three minutes of quite a few expletives. ‘You’re an f-ing goof. I should knock your head off’ and on and on,” Joel says. “I’ve been here a few years and this is probably up there in the top three explosions that I’ve experienced.”
Three weeks later, as Joel was speaking with his principal on a visit to Secure, Josh walked up.
“Yo, Principal,” he yelled. “Joel and Don are the best teachers. I’ve never had teachers I wanted to go to school with before.”
“That was a far cry from being called ‘an f-ing goof’ three weeks before,” Joel says with a laugh.
So what changed? How did an angry young man go from being unable to stay in the classroom for more than an hour to earning daily school scores of 8 and higher?
Joel gives much of the credit to a new Character Education program that Secure’s teaching staff launched last year. The program teaches people to understand, care about and act upon eight key traits — courage, good judgment, integrity, kindness, perseverance, respect, responsibility and self-discipline.
Every five weeks or so, students at Secure focus on one of these traits. Using tools like videos, movies and discussion groups, the youth explore how each value can be translated into real life.
To reinforce the traits, staff also choose academic materials that not only meet the needs of the school board’s curriculum but that also echo the traits.
For example, last year the youth read Jack London’s classic novel, The Call of the Wild. Studying the novel allowed the youth to earn credits in English and learning skills. It also gave the teachers opportunities to talk about the positive characteristics demonstrated by the book’s canine characters.
As the program progresses, staff and teachers are noticing encouraging changes in the behaviour of the youth they work with, many of whom have never had positive role models.
But learning about character traits isn’t the whole reason for the program’s success — it’s that it helps youth build those traits in themselves.
“I think the main reason the program is successful is that we don’t focus on the conflict between us and the youth,” Joel says. “Instead, we focus on their ability to show good character and how we can assist them in developing that.”
After Josh’s explosion, Joel says, “My response was if you want to make this about me and you, then that’s your choice. But I’m making this about our school scores and our character traits. And if you’re not going to follow through on your responsibility, if you’re not going to show proper self-discipline, if you’re not going to show good integrity, you’re not going to be in class.”
Joel then asked Josh to set two or three small goals for improvement that reflected self-discipline, respect and other traits. Over the next few weeks, as Josh worked to meet his goals, he began to earn higher and higher school scores.
Seeing the positive impact that Character Education has had in the classroom, the teaching staff hope eventually to integrate it into all of Secure’s programs.
“If youth earn a school credit while they’re here at Secure, that’s awesome,” Joel says. “But if they leave with better character, I am thrilled.”
*Name has been changed
"Welcome Home is alive and well"
We spoke with Tonya and Shelley Campagnola, MCRS’s Executive Director, about the transition. They shared how refugees in the program are coping with the change and what the program will look like going forward.
Tonya Verburg: As we reviewed our programs this year, we realized that although we wanted to support refugees, we are not experts in this field. In addition, budget and staffing constraints, especially after the departure of program director Sharon Schmidt, made it difficult for us to give our Welcome Home residents the support they needed.
We had already been running Welcome Home in partnership with MCRS. With their 32-year history of caring for refugees, it made sense for MCRS to take over the program.
Shelley Campagnola: MCRS agreed to manage Welcome Home after Ray of Hope approached us because we wanted to ensure that refugee claimants had access to immediate accommodation that wasn’t an emergency shelter.
Tonya: Our goal was to make the transition as seamless as possible for our residents. For instance, Welcome Home’s program coordinator is the same person, but now she’s an MCRS employee. Even the landlord, who owns the house where Welcome Home is located, agreed to transfer the lease to MCRS.
Shelley: The low-impact approach has been effective so far and we’re working to keep the residents informed. We recently brought all our employees and residents together for lunch so they could meet each other and residents could get answers to any questions they might have.
Shelley: In the next few months, we’ll be looking at hiring more staff and implementing new programming. We want to grow beyond ESL (English as a second language) to English immersion. We also want to establish an employment readiness program and offer residents more opportunities for recreation and community integration.
Shelley: Welcome Home is alive and well. We’re working to clarify our partnerships and opportunities for volunteer engagement. If you were involved with the program in the past, we’d love to hear from you.
Tonya: We’re grateful for your understanding during this time of transition and we hope you’ll continue your involvement with Welcome Home. This isn’t about supporting one agency or another; it’s about supporting people.
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