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Fostering a life-long learning experience at Youth Villages-Inner Harbour Campus

April 24, 2012

African drumming is an important component of life at Inner Harbour. In addition to the therapeutic benefits of drumming, students also learn about African history and culture.

Seven students in Dede Chase’s classroom just finished reading about Liz Murray, a young girl who was homeless and earned a scholarship to Harvard University. Her story was made popular by a made-for-TV movie, “Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story.”

The Youth Villages-Inner Harbour Campus is one of Georgia’s largest psychiatric residential treatment programs for seriously emotionally troubled children and youth. The woodland setting on 1,200 acres just outside Atlanta offers a therapeutic environment, including a lake, a sports field, running track and playgrounds for recreational activities.

Just outside the classroom, Tyrel was preparing to be discharged, but he wanted to read a poem to the class before he left. Chase took the opportunity to give the students an assignment: listen to the poem, and then give it a title and a cover drawing.

Tyrel entered the room, wiping his eyes with a tissue. The class waited silently as Tyrel gathered his emotions and began reading.

“… Parents divorced, foster homes, leaving me with all these memories that were bad, I really hoped they could have been a better mom and stepdad … Now I am moving forward in my life, no more pain, misery or strife. Now I’m a strong young man, doing the best that I can.”

(More below the photos)

(Above) Recently, members of James Couch’s class at Inner Harbour school constructed a fire pit. In addition to grading the land, digging the pit and constructing drainage, the class also transported logs to place by the pit. Called group logs, they offer groups an opportunity to sit together for celebrations and other group functions.

Jason (right) tends to lizards in a terrarium at Inner Harbour school. Jason and others in his class care for numerous animals, including a cockatiel named Georgia, lizards, numerous fish, turtles and a python. In addition to caring for the animals, they also learn about each animal’s habitat and behavior and learn math skills through mixing appropriate strengths for purifying the water in tanks and measuring appropriate amounts of food.
(Above left) Youth Villages-Inner Harbour school teacher Dede Chase takes every opportunity to turn things into learning events for young people at Inner Harbour. (Above right) Tyrel reads a poem to his class before being discharged. It took him three weeks to write the poem about his life and his time at Inner Harbour.

Tyrel’s poem offered closure for the group and a chance for the class and Tyrel to say goodbye. The class also used the event to interpret meaning. The class assignment was summed up best by one student who drew faces accompanying “I hate to see him leave, I will feel lonely, sad, upset, disappointed … and happy.”

Jack and Edward were part of Youth Villages-Inner Harbour school chess team that competed in the seven-school Douglas County Team Chess Tournament. The team finished fourth. Edward, who remembered watching his grandfather play chess in the park when he was younger, said nerves were the reason he lost his first match.

“One of the people I played against was real cocky, and I was nervous,” he said. “I didn’t want to shake his hand after the match, but I did.”

He won his next four matches.

After the tournament, the class wrote essays about their experiences. Some created PowerPoint presentations that brought the event into a context of learning. Teacher James Couch’s chess curriculum shows students sportsmanship. It enforces the academic concepts of geometry and algebraic notation. It also enhances critical thinking and social skills. Through chess, students learn to understand the consequences of decisions.

“We tap into things that interest the children and expand on their interest,” said Penny Honeycutt, Inner Harbour school principal. “Through positive experiences, they are able to see how they can contribute in a positive way in whatever situation they are confronted with. Most importantly, they have fun.”

Youth Villages-Inner Harbour school operates under the premise that learning is everywhere, and it’s in everything they do. From African drumming and chess, to landscaping meeting places and caring for animals, youth at Inner Harbour school let their experience define what academic concepts they learn.

“We encourage our students to reflect and evaluate how they learn, and they become personally involved in their educational and social experiences,” Honeycutt said. “Their retention of educational concepts increases dramatically when they’re given the opportunity to hear, see, touch and emotionally connect with the concepts we’re teaching.”

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