The Perfect Storm of Challenging Students: Fifteen Strategies to Support the Socio-Emotional Learning and Education of the Whole Learner

The Perfect Storm of Challenging Students: Fifteen Strategies to Support the Socio-Emotional Learning and Education of the Whole Learner

Mark Patrick Ryan
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4906-3.ch010
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This chapter explores 15 strategies being employed at various public military charter schools across the United States to support the socio-emotional learning and education of the whole learner. These research-based strategies are intended to overcome and vanquish the adverse childhood experiences (identified in a Kaiser health study), various forms of trauma, and typical “at risk” factors so common amongst families who tend to choose public military academies in the hopes these schools will “fix” the many challenges their children face. Through a careful examination of each strategy (including its research basis and benefits and challenges), the author provides a glimpse into a possible formula other public and private schools might consider employing to meet the socio-emotional and educational needs of students impacted by a cacophony of life's challenges.
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Teaching is a very difficult profession. Most people who have never tried to teach a room full of young people have no real understanding or appreciation for how challenging it can be. Arguably, the most compelling and urgent challenge facing schools today is the growing number of students who are coming into classrooms with significant trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences. These challenges have created what the researcher has termed, “Perfect Storm of Challenging Students”. For example, in one current seventh grade class section at the North Valley Military Institute in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California, there are 37 students enrolled. The average reading and math performance of those seventh graders is at the third-grade level. Of those 37 students, 36 students are “students of color,” 36 qualify for free and reduced meals because of poverty, eight are homeless, four are foster children, 19 are Special Education, 33 have failed two or more classes in the previous school year, four are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, 11 have diagnosed significant emotional disturbance, 15 are English learners, nine require weekly counseling sessions with licensed therapists, social workers or credentialed school counselors, 32 have been suspended or expelled from another school at least one in the last three years, 14 are from single parent households, 21 have had more than 10 absences from school in their previous six years of formal schooling, and all 37 of the 37 have two or more of these characteristics. Those numbers surely paint a bleak picture and compel recognition of how difficult teaching such a perfect storm of students can be.

The researcher’s extensive study of public military academies across the United States for nearly two decades reveals that there are strategies that appear effective at reaching those students caught up in that perfect storm. That empirical study has included both quantitative and qualitative analyses of student academic achievement, the nature and extent of academic and socioemotional supports in place at those schools, the design of character and leadership development programs at those institutions, and the robust characteristics of athletic and wellness programs at public military academies.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Opportunity Gaps: Ways in which race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, English proficiency, community wealth, familial situations, or other factors contribute to or perpetuate lower educational aspirations, achievement, and attainment for certain groups of students.

College-Going Culture: When a school establishes expectations and conditions that all students are capable of admission to and success in college coursework and degree completion.

Interscholastic Athletics: Competition between different schools in team sports.

Public Military Charter School: A non-traditional public charter school that uses a military theme to promote the four pillars of academic rigor, leadership development, citizenship promotion, and athletic/personal wellness.

Trauma-Informed Schools: Educational institutions with specialized training for staff and services for students and families who have experienced trauma.

Intramural Athletics: Competition between different groups within the same school (for example classes, grade levels, subsets of students) in team sports.

Predictable Routines: A set of expectations a child knows is coming next in their day.

Adverse Childhood Experiences: A set of traumatic experiences, such as having a family member in jail, familial drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence, neglect, child abuse, sexual assault, divorce, or violence against a woman in the household.

Academic Rigor: Expecting students to be challenged by academic work at level that is appropriately frustrating but not excessively so.

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