Part two of a three-part series on education in Detroit. Read part one.
“Coach is the man when it comes to knowing how to talk to the kids, knowing how to kind of bring them back down to Earth when they get off in their own world and want to kill people and stuff,” says Mr. Looney, principal of McGivney School in Detroit. “It’s a certain tact he has with these kids.
“Most of these students don’t want to be in school at all,” Mr. Looney says. “They want to be on the street.” A metal detector sounds in the distance. Every student gets checked on their way in and things get confiscated: “cigarettes, drugs, very few weapons—steak knives, pocketknives… kids come in drunk, high, with booze…” He loves to pop open lockers, once discovering a rusty saw. DPS deals with the same struggles but on a much more massive scale and are often ill-equipped to handle it. Many are unable to offer care to at-risk or special-needs students from poverty stricken homes.
McGivney has counselors and therapists who offer a future to many who may not otherwise be exposed to it. The atmosphere is based on a positive behavior support model. Going above and beyond earns “blue jay bucks” (titled after their school mascot) which students can spend at the school store on candy, pencils, and notebooks.
“It’s just that they got caught up,” says Coach Harvel (pictured). “It’s so hard to get out of the system. Because once you leave this controlled environment, then you go home to an environment that’s not controlled. And those are the things we can’t control.
“The kids get more one-on-one attention, which they yearn for,” Coach says. “And if you don’t give it to them they’ll make you give it to them… They’re gonna get it one way or another so you might as well have a plan set to give ‘em one-on-one attention… a lot of them are successful with that, and some still aren’t successful. It all depends on having a plan, and your plan changes every day.
“By the hour it changes. You gotta be willing to change. Sometimes you gotta close the books. Sometimes you gotta give ‘em some downtime… it’s just how it is.”
This series ends with a discussion with three students who have each come to McGivney from DPS.
dialogue with Mr. Biolchino: http://songsfromthemoon.com/2010/12/28/mr-biolchino/
photos of McGivney: http://songsfromthemoon.com/2010/12/21/mcgivney-school/