Challenge to Change

By staff September 1, 2008

A fledgling project started in 1998 to keep suspended youth in school has blossomed into a five-school program that’s helped more than 4,500 students stay out of trouble, keep up with their schoolwork and manage their behavior issues, thanks to Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Sarasota-Manatee.

The Challenge to Change/Safe Alternative to Out-of-School Suspension Program—or CTC/SATOSS, to keep it sort of simple—targets middle-schoolers between 11 and 13, the most vulnerable age group for getting in trouble with the community, falling behind and not catching up.

JFCS president Rose Chapman started CTC a decade ago at McIntosh Middle School with a miniscule $25,000 grant because, “I feel strongly that kids should not be suspended home, period,” she says. “The minute you suspend them is the kiss of death.”

Now CTC counselors work full-time at McIntosh, Booker, Heron Creek and Lincoln middle schools, and at Emma E. Booker Elementary. They meet daily in a separate classroom with at-risk students to tackle such issues as life skills, anger management, bullying and drug and alcohol prevention.

Teacher’s aides step in to help with daily assignments. The annual budget is about $400,000, with less than 5 percent in cash coming from the school districts (although Chapman is quick to point out that in-kind donations of classroom space and aides are priceless). Volunteer mentors are integral. About 75 trained mentors, many retired educators and counselors themselves, go into the schools an hour each week to tutor, have lunch, help set goals and act as cheerleaders.

JFCS gauges success many ways, says Barbara Bennett, CTC program coordinator at Booker Middle: through constant communication with their regular classroom teachers, an increase in letter grades and a decrease in referrals. “It’s noticeable,” says Bennett. “The inclination to violence goes down.”

But perhaps the students themselves offer the best measure of success. “The CTC program helped me to not get into trouble for dumb stuff,” says Louis, a seventh grader at Booker Middle School. “And when my mentor, Bob, came, he helped me out a lot. Since I had my mentor, my science grade went from an F to a B.”

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