Manatee Glens, schools join to help at-risk students

chawes@bradenton.comFebruary 22, 2012 

BRADENTON Cody Johnson, 11, has a hard time remembering the days when he threw erasers, marked up classroom items, and tripped his classmates in response to being bullied himself.

That’s because Cody now attends Manatee Glens’ “one-room schoolhouse” for kids in grades fourth through eighth, where he has learned new skills for getting along with other kids and putting his highly active mind to use in the right way.

“The main thing is that every day I finish my work,” the Palmetto youngster says. “And in this classroom, I’m learning a lot more.”

“He used to overreact but now he’s learned how to share about what’s bothering him,” says his mother Carrie Robertson.

Offered by Manatee Glens for kids ages five to 11 since 1997, the one-room schoolhouse expanded in September to help older youths. Manatee Glens aims to spread the word about the concept with an open house from 4:30-6 p.m. Thursday.

The effort is a collaboration of Manatee Glens, the public school district and several nonprofit groups. Through

the one-room schoolhouse, which has five staffers working with nine kids, intense education and psychological services are provided to children on the verge of being kicked out of regular classrooms.

Cody, for example, had become so disruptive in his Imagine School classroom that the school had asked him to leave. Yet Cody was intelligent enough that he was speaking like a second-grader at the age of four, assembling complex Lego projects without any instruction.

He was determined by school officials to be gifted and achieved high scores on his standardized tests. Nevertheless, he rarely completed his schoolwork and frequently got into fights with other students. He was often picked on by other students, but because he is so much taller than most kids his age, teachers often assumed he was doing the bullying, he said.

Cody needed so much extra attention from his teachers, Robertson said, that one teacher labeled him “the post-it kid, because she needed to stay on him like a Post-It note.”

Once a principal referred him to Manatee Glens’ one-room schoolhouse, also called the Children’s Day Program, Cody began to thrive.

Most valuable to him was the community group, where he and his classmates take turns passing around a stuffed frog named Biggie.

“The one who has Biggie is the one who talks,” Cody says. “First we do thank-yous, then issues and concerns. And even though you don’t have to have issues and concerns, it’s better to announce it in the group rather than talk about it later.

“You get to express yourself, and everybody is listening. They’re not just ignoring you,” he said.

Cody also gains from the program’s routine of assigning each student specific tasks.

“They understand that they’re in a community where everybody counts, everybody has a voice, and everybody’s responsible for things working out,” said Yvonne Gonzalez, Manatee Glens’ assistant director of interactive children’s services.

Kids participate in the program for nine to 18 weeks and eventually return to the classroom with a detailed plan on how to continue addressing their unique challenges.

The program fills a void for some kids, says Schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal, because it provides psychological treatment along with education. Even special education programs through the traditional school district address only a child’s educational needs, he says.

The schoolhouse’s annual cost is just over $210,000, with the school district paying for personnel and Manatee Glens paying for facilities. Three community groups the Bishop Foundation, the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch and the Manatee Community Foundation have provided grant money to pay for basic supplies.

Fundraising is ongoing to improve the program’s resources, which include not only instructional materials and basic tools like pencils and paper, but also the shoes, clothes and other basic necessities that some of the child clients need.

Robertson recommends the program for any parent who is concerned that his or her child’s problem behaviors might be leading he or she down the wrong path.

“If we hadn’t come here, Cody would have ended up in juvenile detention,” she says. “He wouldn’t have had the chance to turn himself around. This is a great opportunity for a lot of kids.”

Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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