OPINION: Kristen Sullivan reflects on visit to the SEED School and CORE Conference in D.C.

I had seen the SEED School of Washington, D.C. in the documentary, Waiting for Superman, so I knew to expect a culture of high expectations for all in a learning community committed to academic excellence at this residential, public charter school.  Still, I was struck by both the quantitative measures of success shared by Charles Adams, Head of School, and the excitement about and pride in their school evident in the student ambassadors leading our tour.   These kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, living in what has historically been considered one of the lowest performing urban public school systems in the country, were optimistic about their future given the educational opportunity being afforded to them at SEED.

My tour of SEE was part of the Coalition for Residential Education‘s (CORE) Leadership Insitute in Washington, D.C., where I had the opportunity to present some of the Positive Outcomes for Orphans(POFO) findings comparing the wellbeing of orphans and abandoned children in institutional and community-based care settings in five less wealthy nations. A national non-profit organization founded in 1994, CORE supports the development of high-quality residential education programs and schools for youth disadvantaged backgrounds. Attendees included CORE board members and other leaders from a variety of residential institutions around the country, including Milton Hershey School, Baptists Children’s Homes, the SEED School of Maryland, and Crossnore School.

The membership of CORE is diverse, with some organizations serving some students in the child welfare system, while others do not.  Certainly large, ‘institution-like’ residential treatment programs for children with serious behavioral and emotional problems have been found lacking in their ability to meet these children’s needs.   However, my tour of SEED and discussions with CORE’s leadership led me to consider the role of residential schools and programs for children without serious emotional and behavioral problems involved in the child welfare system, whose chance of breaking the cycle of poverty and/or abuse in their families lies in their ability to access excellent education.  Perhaps it’s time we reconsider residential education as an option for some of these children.

About the author: Kristen Sullivan (Ph.D. in Health Behavior and Health Education, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) is a Research Scholar at Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research at Duke University.

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