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Re-engaging Disconnected Youth

Transformative Learning through Restorative and Social Justice Education – Revised Edition


Amy Vatne Bintliff

As many young adults continue to disengage with learning each day, teachers and administrators struggle to find ways to re-engage secondary students with their schooling and communities. Re-engaging Disconnected Youth profiles a program that succeeds in doing so, one that can serve as a model for others. In a Midwestern alternative school, three teachers built a curriculum around hands-on learning, restorative justice Talking Circles, and multicultural education, in the hopes that it would re-engage and inspire youth. Drawing on Adult Transformative Learning Theory, the book is an in-depth, qualitative study of the ways the program transformed adult and youth perceptions of trust, connections, schooling and human rights. It breaks down stereotypes about youth labeled «at-risk» and provides evidence that it is never too late to become passionate about learning. This new revised edition includes updated research and a chapter exploring the impact of the program on middle school youth.
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Chapter 5. The Impact of Westward Bound on Middle School Learners


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Since the first edition of this book in 2011, 47 new students have participated in Westward Bound. I moved to Wisconsin and began teaching reading at a middle school, in a small Wisconsin town with a population of around 10,000. The population is fairly affluent, with an average income of approximately $72,000; however, our district’s free and reduced lunch percentages increased from 12 percent to above 25 percent in some buildings from 2008–2015. Demographics are changing quickly in our community, just as they are in others, due to declining jobs and the closing of factories. When implementing the program with a new age group, and in a new location, I asked the following questions:

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Despite the change in demographics and location, I encountered many students who were still in need of programs that helped foster connections. Students at my middle school, especially those who struggled with reading, felt disengaged with school. As a reading teacher, I served one small slice of our population. I mainly worked with students who were testing two or three grade levels below nationally normed targets. Even though we opened the application up to any students in our school, because they knew me well, many candidates for Westward Bound came from my classroom. One 14-year-old male student said:

I think I...

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