Helping an Expelled Third-grader Get Back in School and on Track

December 8th, 2010
Javion and Denise Lawson after his first day of school at Neinas Elementary

A nine-year-old boy hits his teacher and is expelled from a school in southwest Detroit. He misses the final three months of third grade and has no place to go when the new school year begins.

His young life already hangs in the balance. Although he is a bright child and gets good grades, he is perceived a “bad kid” destined to be a detriment to the community. He is ambivalent about how he sees himself.

“I think I am half bad and half good,” explains Javion Lawson, when asked about his problems of insubordination and fighting at school. He pauses for a long moment, and then adds: “But mostly I am good.”

Clearly, a school cannot tolerate a student disrespecting and striking a teacher, even if there are extenuating circumstances. Clearly also, a child cannot be successful in life without an education, and, ultimately, the community will bear the burden of this failure.

Intervention is necessary to give the child and his family the services and advocacy they need to get the child on the right track.

Southwest Solutions provides such services through its Wraparound program. Wraparound emphasizes a collaborative approach. Family members, counselors, social workers, psychologists, teachers, school officials, and other support providers all work together to help the at-risk child reach goals that will lead to success.

Anthony Graham, a Wraparound Coordinator, worked with Javion and his mother Denise to help reinstate Javion in school and facilitate the psychological testing and counseling to begin to address his behavioral problems.

“I see myself in Javion,” Anthony says. “At his age, I was suspended from school for acting out and actually kicking a teacher. I always heard that I was going to be a thug and gangbanger, and it could have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. We must help Javion understand that he is a smart and resilient young man, and that he can realize his potential.”

The odds seem stacked against Javion, who turned ten in June. He is haunted by traumatic events that occurred at three years old. He worries often about losing his mother, whose love is the only anchor in an otherwise stormy life.

When he was three, Javion witnessed his uncle murdered in a drive-by shooting. In the same year, Javion was visiting his father when police raided the house and arrested his dad, who was then imprisoned for drug dealing and gun possession. Javion has not seen him since.

“I know that I’m going to be better than my dad,” Javion says firmly. He then softens: “But my dad wasn’t all bad. I remember when he took me to Chuck E. Cheese once and we raced bumper cars.”

Javion is one of six children that his mother Denise has. When Javion was expelled from school, Denise pleaded with the school to not give up on her son and to let him back in.

“I get mad when they label my son as no good,” Denise says. “Yes, he has behavioral issues and can be stubborn, but he’s very smart. Since being expelled, I’ve seen negative changes in him. He’s bored and he’s not listening to me like he used to. He needs to be in school, like any other child.”

In the summer, Denise came to Southwest Counseling Solutions to ask for help from the Wraparound team. Javion and Denise started individual and family therapy with Kathy Lin, a social worker who is part of the team.

Denise worked with Anthony to petition the Detroit Public School Hearing Board to re-admit Javion. At the hearing, Javion spoke and apologized for his actions toward his teacher. He said that he has learned his lesson about causing trouble, and also learned about how much he missed going to school.

In mid-November, the Board granted the petition. It also issued a formal apology to Denise, saying that DPS had failed Javion by not acting sooner to get him back in school.

This Monday (December 6), Javion attended his first day of fourth grade at Neinas Elementary in southwest Detroit. Although he has not been in school for eight months, Javion believes he will catch up quickly because his mom made sure that he continued to read and study.

Javion says he wants to be a doctor when he grows up. Asked why, he answers that he wants to help his mother, who suffers from a serious lung disease.

“Sometimes she’s really sick and I feel that there’s no one there for her,” Javion says.

With Javion back in school, the Wraparound team will continue to work with the family to stabilize Javion’s behavior, maintain his school attendance, and coordinate services and resources to enhance his likelihood of success.

“We build rapport and trust with the families we serve,” Anthony says. “I see these families as an extension of my own.”

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