In order to support disengaged students in upper secondary school (USS) at serious risk of dropping out, and to retrieve school refusers who had not completed compulsory school and were not occupied in other measures, the educational department in the municipality of Skellefteå in 2013 joined he national project Plug In and initiated an educational program called “the First Room”. The program was placed in an alternative environment staffed by professionals from the local upper secondary school, and from the department of recreation and culture and a non-government organization (NGO) specialized in working with students with special educational needs (SEN). The staff who worked in the program all had special qualifications and extensive experience of working with students "at-risk” and had a close cooperation with the student health team at the school as well as with professional in other important sectors such as children and family services and the youth psychiatric team.
The program was located in the local youth centre and offered activities two half-days every week and served as an introductory arena for youngsters making the move back to school, and into USS. The students who participated simultaneously, attended regular classes at the municipal school according to an individually paced program of study.
The activities pursued at the youth centre, centered on supporting students to develop critical skills which will help them succeed not only in pursuing an education, but in the long-term in shaping a positive, future life-path. Thus, many activities had an overarching objective of enhancing students’ self-efficacy and sense of worth, self-esteem, self-confidence and resiliency as well as social skills.
The activities included:
- Activites focused on building trust and form positive relationships to adults and peers: via group discussions, one-on-one talks and follow-up, coaching, mental training sessions etc.
- Activities to strengthen resiliency for ex by using Mental training
- Special activities to enhance self-efficacy and self-esteem
- Social training
- Authentic learning projects
- Theatre, film, art exhibitions, music projecs
- Life skills, guidance
- Civic orientation – orientation in local community
- Pedagogical projects – film projects/discussions
- Leisure-recreational activities (cooking, field trips etc)
- Art therapy
The program was successful at retrieving students and support them in their returning to school or training. In 2014, after about one year, a review showed that all the 29 students who has taken part in the group program, remained in education, or other types of training or measures outside of high school, and their attendance rates were overall good. Many of the students had completed the requirements for a national program in upper secondary school, a result which was in line with students in the regular introductory programs at the school, a very promising result considering the complex situation the students were in when the project was initiated and their special needs.
The students who attended the program reported many positive effects overall, such as:
- A heightened sense of well-being
- Feeling less depressed
- Feeling less worried
- Feeling stronger
- Increased sense of self-worth
- Feeling more self-confident
- Feeling more courageous and prone to try new things
- Feeling more stable and happy
- Feeling more social and socially skilled
- Feeling more safe and secure
- Feeling a greater joy of living/joie de vivre
- Better at setting boundaries
- Reduced self-destructive behaviours
- Feeling better equipped to handle future life choices
Context of good practice
Skellefteå Municipality is in the north of Sweden, and has a population of about 72 000, of which about 35 000 live in the largest city of Skellefteå. “The First Room” involved staff and students enrolled in one of the municipal upper secondary high schools, a large school that offers a variety of programs.
The students that participated in the program were disengaged and in need of support of various kinds. One group of the students were labelled “school refusers”, and had not attended school for extended periods of time, due to difficult experiences during their compulsory schooling. Most of the students had special educational needs and learning disabilities, and had been diagnosed with different disorders and neuropsychiatric dysfunctions such as ADHD and ADD, or variations of autism spectrum. At the time the students entered the program, the majority of them also reported suffering from a range of health issues. Commonly reported problems included depression, anxiety, and social phobia.
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Target group of good practice:
School leaders & Teacher educators
Carita Green Granström (Local project manager and educator)
Local youth centre, Skellefteå Municipality