A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Voices from Classroom: Really? Really. Kids in alternative schools need understanding too

By Jordon Floyd and Stefanie Stubblefield

“Really?!” This, along with a face of displeasure or one that looks frightened, is usually the one word that I hear immediately after someone asks me where I am an assistant principal. The same response seems to be given to all of us in our building, or a response similar to, “Isn’t that the bad kid school?” In my mind, I think they are picturing me, my co-workers, and our students to look like something from Dangerous Minds.

While I wouldn’t mind if someone mistook me for Michelle Pfeiffer every once in a while, and yes we, (we being the staff at Bartlett Educational Center in Erlanger Elsmere Schools) come to work every day and face different struggles and work through students difficulties. However, the two have fewer similarities than I think people are hoping for when I begin to describe the school.

Some of these scenarios may seem similar to those of a highly edited Hollywood movie; however, the two settings, “Hollywood Tough Schools” and Bartlett Educational Center couldn’t be any more different.

Jordon Floyd and I started our journey at Bartlett at the same time. We are in our second year where I am currently the assistant principal and he is a teacher leader within our building. We both have a special education background and together we have 21 years of experience working with more difficult populations.

Jordon came from Lloyd High School and I came from Howell Elementary. I spent 8 years prior to moving to Erlanger Elsmere Schools in Covington, in the elementary setting as well. So, for us, different and challenging are the only things we know.

Even though Bartlett was in our district, it seemed like it was in a completely different world to outsiders like us. Honestly, it got to the point where we were tired of hearing a great deal of information and gossip about “those kids” and “that place.” Most importantly, we both had a vision for what we wanted for Bartlett, we wanted to change the narrative of how people in the public viewed our school or an alternative school, and what really goes on day to day in our building. Our hope is to show that Bartlett, and the students within our four walls, are seen as more than the label or struggles that they may have.

While we don’t think that we are part of the cast of Dangerous Minds, we do feel that we are participants in a marathon. The biggest difference between a traditional school setting and an alternative school like Bartlett is that our students often need a greater amount of support in order to be successful on a day to day basis.

Imagine being that person lined up for a marathon who is handing out water as the runners pass by. But this marathon doesn’t end, and neither does the parade of runners who really need water to keep going. We spend our days scrambling into our proverbial cooler trying to get as much water as we can for each runner until the end of the school day. Then, we refill the coolers for tomorrow.

The simple fact is that there aren’t many differences in the students that you work with in a traditional school and those who are in an alternative setting. Our students need support, period. We can tell you from experience that “those kids” in the alternative school that seem like mythical creatures to some, are some of the most rewarding students to work with (as cliche as that may sound). Although they won’t always admit it, these students crave routine; they want to be a part of something, and they want to be challenged academically.

They are smart. They are talented. They are capable of more than most people are willing to give them credit for. They are searching for that one adult (and luckily at Bartlett, they have ten waiting for them at the doors every morning) who will offer them an ear, a shoulder to cry on, or one they just simply know will be the constant adult in their life that will show up time and time again. The scarlet letter of being one of “those kids” hurts them and they don’t want that to be what identifies them. Our students know, when they enter through our doors, that we don’t see that scarlet letter and that we don’t let it define them. They need to improve parts of their lives, no doubt. But last time we checked, there were some things that we could improve upon.

Hands-on experiences

Students at Bartlett are just like students anywhere else.  Many of them have experienced trauma in their lives and some of them still experience trauma daily. Some will continue to experience trauma, no matter how much we wish they wouldn’t, which makes this the toughest part of our job. We don’t have control over what happens once they walk out our doors until they walk back in the next day.  Some don’t know where they are going to sleep each night, and some have family members in prison. Some no longer speak to their parents and some struggle with addiction or live with someone who does. A lot of our students really fit into the ACE’s study that is widely talked about today in schools. ACE’s are Adverse Childhood Effects. These are traumatic events that a child witnesses or are a part of.

The more ACE’s the has experienced the more likely they are to experience other school and social difficulties as well as health issues. That comes with them into the classroom.  Would you be interested in taking a test about 18th Century British Literature if you hadn’t eaten in a couple days?

We can imagine that you wouldn’t be interested either.

Each day we get a short amount of time to spend with these young people.  We can make choices to work with them or be another barrier in their path on any given day.  We choose to work with them. Sometimes that means being tough on them and holding them to certain standards. It means being consistent, but also understanding that what may work for one might not work for the other, even if we think we have it figured out. Other times that means talking with them, sitting with them in silence, walking with them to the cafeteria to grab something to eat, shooting basketball with them in the gym, or just being the teacher who they feel safe with. We get to do this day in and day out. What happens one day for one particular student may not work the next day and we are willing to adjust in any way that they need.

Stephanie Stubblefield

Students get almost 1:1 instruction and attention to help with where they need improving. We have the flexibility and luxury to work on what each student needs. If a student needs social-emotional assistance we can take time out of the academic time to address those needs. We really do cater to the individual needs of each individual child. Sometimes that is all it takes to help break the walls down on a bad day.

At the end of our students’ time here at Bartlett, we hope that they can see us as that support versus a barrier. We will never be able to change the trauma that they have experienced or really even know what they have truly faced, what we can do is begin to teach them resilience and grit that will hopefully follow them far into their careers, colleges, and/or adulthood.

Jordon Floyd

When they get to the end of their marathon (graduation), we can be their cheerleaders, the ones giving them that hug (the type where both the student and adult have a hard time pulling away) to celebrate their finish, no matter the obstacles they faced. Even if it takes them a little longer to reach the end of that marathon, we will continue to be there each day to try again with a cooler full of water…because they need us, so they can keep going.

Jordon Floyd is a teacher leader at the Bartlett Educational Center. He is in his 10th year of education. This is his second year at BEC. Previously he taught for 8 years at Lloyd High School as a special education teacher.

Stefanie Stubblefield is the assistant principal at the Bartlett Educational Center. This is her 13th year in education. This is her second year at BEC. Previously she was an elementary teacher at Howell and an elementary/special education teacher at Ninth District in Covington Independent Schools.

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