If you were to walk the halls of Dakota Memorial School (DMS), you would notice the presence of the sights and sounds of learning. The sounds of student/teacher discussions regarding math problems, historical events, and the themes of classic literature flood through the building. The sight of students bent over their projects in science lab, and curled up in bean bag chairs reading books, dot the landscape.
If you don’t know our kids, you may not realize what a miracle this is.
For many children, school is a place to shine. But for most of our kids, school has not been filled with the memories of learning, friends, and success. Learning has been a struggle, friendships are few, and anxiety overwhelming.
When students enter DMS, we meet them at their level, and teaching from a textbook is only part of what we do. We are part of a team at Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch that guides them not only through education and learning, but to tools and strategies they can use to address their unique challenges so they can be successful in the future.
The foundation of this success is built on relationships. Human beings are created for connection—we have a basic need to belong to a group and form relationships. So, one of our first tasks with new students is to build trust—trust that each day is a clean slate, and that we will be there to help them learn and succeed.
Teachers and staff don’t expect or look for easy or smooth—we want to be there for our students during the tough times because that is how our students will learn to cope with difficulties when they leave us. Teachers and staff meet times of anxiety, stress, or frustration ready to listen. We show our students that the present is only a small chapter of their lives—they can grow and accept a new set of tools that will help them have richer lives.
When supporting students through healing, we have come to expect that no two students are the same. Although students might have similar interests, learning styles, or grade levels, each child walking through our hallways can expect individual attention. We look for starting points, points where we can build confidence that learning is possible and relationships are good. Students soon find that they can’t push us away—we will search for creative ways to make connections, and remain a part of their journey, no matter how hard they push.
Just as I know I don’t have all the answers, teachers and staff know they don’t have all the answers. We look to each other, kids’ families, therapists, and youth care workers for ideas. We blend ideas and techniques to create something unique, sometimes finding out what doesn’t work before we find what does.
Watching our students gain confidence in a strategy that helps them control anger or frustration, a technique that helps them get over the anxiety of a hard math assignment, or the skills to help carry on a conversation with a peer, is filled with rewards and celebration. Dakota Memorial School is a unique place, a place where we see transformation, transformation that is often quiet and slow, but sometimes remarkable in its speed and intensity.
As much as we cherish our students, our goal is always to send them off to the next chapter of their lives. We may never see the outcome of our work—but we trustingly and lovingly send them off with the faith and prayers of all of us who have been part of their journey towards healing and change.
This article appears in the Spring 2017 issue of "The Ranch Voice." Click here to see the full publication.
Tina Degree is the principal of Dakota Memorial School, Minot.