February 2016

Mr. Bob,
What is it like to come to a therapeutic school like The Harris School?

Let’s face it; no one wants to enroll their child in a school like The Harris School. Unlike a fancy prep school with major parent boosters or bumper stickers declaring parental pride in making the honor roll, coming to our school can feel like a defeat. That feeling is often what finally brings a child to our school, the feeling that he is being defeated in other schools, despite the best efforts of the parents. Conversely it can also be a moment of hope; perhaps now, after watching the child struggle in school environments, that child can finally be given the help that they need to feel successful.
These feelings that bring a child through our doors spark the beginning of a period of relearning for both the parents and the child. By the time a child arrives he has often adopted the identity of the “bad” kid as a self-image. He might also have adopted the maladaptive coping skill that negative attention is just as good as positive attention, and is a good strategy for avoiding things that are hard for him. Through the patient application of strategies including choices and natural consequences without the punitive and judgmental discipline of other environments, kids can relearn that they have the ability for positive control. They also relearn trust in teachers, thus allowing themselves to be vulnerable to working on difficult tasks, knowing that their teacher will support them.
Parents also need to relearn what it means to bring their child to school. They will no longer receive a phone call to come get their child when he is having a hard time. Instead, the child’s issues will be addressed at school. They will have to relearn trust in the professionals working with their child, and more importantly they will have to relearn that their child can handle whatever problems he is having, and that he will persevere. Parents will learn that they are not alone in dealing with these issues, something that they may intellectually know, but that might be hard to truly believe.
These descriptions don’t apply to all of the children and parents who come to our school, however one thing that every child and parent learns when they come here is that school can be different. That it can be a good thing.