New Curriculum Prepares FRC’s Kids for Life

November 21, 2011

Programs and Services

The first time we saw Tommy in our Therapeutic Day Treatment program, we noticed the gaping hole where his baby teeth should have been. (Is the tooth fairy able to find our troubled kids, we wondered?)  Only later, as Tommy tried unsuccessfully to extract the pulp from an orange slice, did we learn that his teeth had decayed as the result of neglect – and worse, his spirits had been trounced by physical abuse. Tommy moved furtively around the fringes of the classroom. So many of our kids act out their trauma – scream and throw things — but not Tommy. We found ourselves wishing that, just once, he would throw a typical little boy’s tantrum, or mischievously grab a toy from another child.

Thankfully, Tommy came to our therapeutic preschool at the perfect time.

This past spring, the preschool implemented a participatory learning experience based on the HighScope curriculum and funded by a grant from the PNC Foundation. Debbie Handler, who has worked with HighScope for 22 years, provided the training for FRC’s teachers and she stresses the need for teachers to be as actively involved in the learning process as the children. And the emphasis is on process. “We don’t care what that Play-Doh caterpillar looks like,” she says, “we are concerned with the process that went into creating it.” Each child’s behavior, interests, and life experiences are taken into account.

Research into the effectiveness of the HighScope curriculum, conducted over the last 40 years, shows that adults who participate in the program as children are 50% more likely to hold jobs, have higher earnings, avoid crime, and graduate from high school than their peers who don’t participate.

Debbie points out the salient features of HighScope that make it ideal for traumatized children like Tommy. The program provides a blueprint for consistent, predictable daily routine aimed at preventing disciplinary problems rather than wasting valuable time dealing with them later. Each day unfolds with the same sequence of events presented in a warm and supportive manner. The classroom is organized and calm and purposeful — a balm to the spirits of children who have known only chaos and correction. This unique structure results in independent, confident children who are ready for mainstream schools and ready for life.

Tommy is about to graduate from FRC’s preschool, and we stopped by recently to check his progress. There was no sign of the sad, docile child of six months ago. Instead, we found a happy little boy, arms pumping and legs stepping high in exaggerated imitation of a soldier as he marched across the preschool playground. He saluted us with a grin – still toothless, but that will heal too.