Getting Ready

Things are starting to feel very real. I told my students today that I will be taking a leave of absence in January to go to New Zealand and research strategies to become a more effective teacher.  My Fulbright experience will be bittersweet because I know I will miss my seniors’ last day, miss our morning group time, and miss seeing all of the progress my new students will make in our program.  Despite knowing this, I am so excited to be afforded the opportunity to research and reflect on pedagogical best practices. My project will be focused on increasing community engagement and post- secondary success through k-12 interventions for children with severe emotional and behavioral disorders. I want the research I do in New Zealand to translate to the work I do here and hopefully give me a framework for helping my students have the best lives they can when they graduate.

Children with emotional and behavioral disorders are one of our most vulnerable populations in the United States: they have some of the lowest rates of post-secondary employment, enrollment in college, home ownership, while largely making up a disproportionate amount of the population incarcerated.  The National Longitudinal Transition Study- 2 estimates only 64% of youth with emotional and behavioral disorders are employed, 6.4% are enrolled in a 4 year college, and only 34% are living independently upon graduating.  They also have the highest dropout rate for any disability category, 61% dropout; only 32% graduate compared to 75% in general education. 

It is even more alarming when looking at the data for children and adults with emotional and behavioral disorders in juvenile detention centers and jails.  Some researchers estimate that between 1 and 3 juveniles arrested have a disability, while others believe that estimate is too conservative and the number is closer to 3 in 4.   Children and adults with EBD are 3 times more likely to be arrested than the general population.  They make up 64% of people in local jails, 54% in state prisons, and 45% in federal prisons, while only making up 4.9% of the general population.  The National Council on Disability and The Hechinger Report both have comprehensive articles on the special education pipeline to prison.

The statistics are harrowing.  It is evident that there is a lot more work to be done.  Children and adults with mental illness face so many barriers: lack of access to mental health services, discrimination in employment, housing discrimination, inability to see a doctor, unstable home lives, criminalization through a disproportionate amount of time removed from school (suspensions/ expulsions) or society (jail, etc.),  and many many more.   When I am working with my students, these statistics weigh heavy on my mind.  I have wonderful, kind students who I want to graduate and lead successful, happy lives. I often wonder what else can be done to support these students?  What other models are there?

I applied for the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching in New Zealand to dig deeper into these questions.  New Zealand places a strong emphasis on whanau/ family and community in their k-12 education.  Children and adults with disabilities are often active members of their communities in New Zealand.  Individuals with disabilities are employment 2.5x more in New Zealand than in the United States.  I am incredibly grateful for an opportunity to observe special education best practices in New Zealand.  I am still determining exactly how I want my inquiry project to look, but some of the questions I want to explore are: what impact does a national social and emotional curriculum have on children with severe emotional and behavioral disorders?, when does transition planning begin and how does that look in action?, what roll does the use of intensive wraparound services play in post-secondary transition planning and how can that be translated?, and what strategies are put in place to ensure that students have strong community engagement upon graduating?

On a note unrelated to my project, but still very intertwined with my professional life, I would like to spend some time observing the high school English curriculum.  The literacy rate is estimated to be 99% in New Zealand and 86% in the United States.   Does the national curriculum in New Zealand allow for more joy in reading and less emphasis on standardized curriculum and assessment?

It is hard to believe that I am leaving so soon.  The next few weeks will be devoted to reading books by New Zealand authors, taking an EdX course on New Zealand culture, learning basic Maori words, sub planning, preparing my final exams, and spending time with friends and family before I leave.  I am incredibly grateful for an opportunity to observe educational best practices, research pedagogical questions, and reflect on improving my own instructional practice.   Above is a picture of myself (on the left) and the other educators who are traveling to New Zealand.  It should be a wonderful adventure.

*Disclaimer: This is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.