They are all “At-Risk”
At-Risk students. We spend so much time talking about them, focusing in on what we can do for them, but rarely, if ever, do we as educators spend time defining what an at-risk student really is. In my view, every student is an “at-risk” student. Every child in our schools, no matter how talented, regardless of how strong their family background is, or aside from their potential could choose behaviors that will hinder their future success.
My belief was cemented for me last spring when one of our counselors came into my office. I was convinced she was mistaking one student for another as she shared with me the list of behaviors one of our 7th graders had participated in. As I entered her office to meet with this student, I was sadly reminded that no matter how good the grades, every child has lessons to learn. The young lady I spent time with that afternoon had all the “right things” in place. Supportive parents, participation in extra curricular activities, and good grades. Yet, she still had much to learn about life. I sat in my office after this meeting, long after everyone else had gone home, still unsure about how we, as a school, could have failed this young person. Only later would it occur to me that maybe our focus on individuals is limited to those who struggle.
Too often, we marginalize those who achieve, often saying things such as “they could teach a class” or “good kid, responsible.” While the students who achieve deserve the praise of the educators who speak highly of them, we often don’t do enough to critically evaluate where they can grow and help them develop. If we are dedicated to real growth for every student, we must focus on those at the top, as well as those at the bottom. We need to look for ways to challenge everyone academically and socially.
If every child in a school is an “at-risk student,” than we must be engineer a system to meet the behavioral and academic needs of every student. Too often, our focus is on those students who struggle, which is a noble goal. However, we must also spend energy on those who we stand to lose to boredom or apathy. While we can all recognize the kids that “talk too much” we need to also pay attention to those who “don’t talk enough.” If we don’t make an effort to challenge every student as an individual, we stand to lose students.
We run a risk when our organization’s view is not broad enough. “Focusing on every child” must really mean “focusing on every child.”