06.26 Wed


Family program helps students get focused

Academic performance and employment rates have surged as a result
Nov 12,2016
One of the families at Kyeongbuk Internet High School become baristas for the day as part of the school’s extracurricular activities. Kyeongbuk implemented a “family building” program in 2005, where faculty members each form a pretend family with eight to 10 students. [KONG JUNG-SIK]
“Dad, let’s go buy the groceries, I need for my after-school program,” said Woo Min-kyu, a freshman at Kyeongbuk Internet High School in Bongwha County, North Gyeongsang, as he walked into the teacher’s room. “We’re making fried shrimp and buchu jeon [leek pancakes].”

The vice-principal, Lee Moo-young, agreed and the two of them walked out of the office and toward a store roughly 10 minutes away by car. The two are not related by blood, but have referred to themselves as father and son at the school since Kyeongbuk implemented its “family building” program in 2005.

Under the program, the school allocates 16 faculty members, each in charge of an activity, as “parents” to eight to 10 students. The principal builds each family in consideration to students’ interests and needs, taking into account students’ interests in extracurricular activities and information from prior counseling sessions.

The families each have their own names, such as “fantastic family” and “cheong chul eo ram family” (after an idiom, literally “blue from the indigo plant,” used to describe a student who surpasses his or her teacher). Lee’s family, for instance, is known as the “we can do it family,” and its family motto is “Let’s go,” which Lee says conveys the message that students can do anything.

Kyeongbuk is a small school with a total of 143 students and is surrounded by farmland, where most parents work as farmers. Bongwha County in North Gyeongsang has four high schools, two of which, including Kyeongbuk Internet High School, are vocational high schools. Most students entering such schools lack the grades needed to be admitted to public high schools or come from underprivileged families and plan to start working relatively early. Half of Kyeongbuk’s students receive basic living subsidies from the central government.

A decade ago, Kyeongbuk was notorious for the bad behavior of its students. Rarely did students come to school on time or pay attention during class. Teachers recall students saying, “Who are you to tell me what to do?” when asked to be on time or stay focused. Lee recounted, “I had no clue what to do at the time.”

Teachers, however, realized that the real problem was the lack of support the students were getting. The only solution, they believed, was to help students overcome the distrust they had for adults. The result was the family building program.

Introducing the new program was not easy, and in fact, some students said they did not want to refer to their teachers as parents. It was not just students who complained; teachers expressed concern about the added level of work involved. But the principal and vice principal convinced the school community, saying, “building a family is the only way to bring about positive changes to the school.”

The changes were evident within a month of starting the program. Teachers celebrated the birthdays of their “children” and spent time eating out together. But the most effective practice of all, teachers said, was simply exchanging kind words.

The father of “fantastic family,” Park Sun-nam, would often tell his “children” things such as “You look beautiful today” or “Good luck in your P.E. class” whenever she bumped into them at school. She was always the first person to hear out their concerns, as well. Even when she discovered things that were troubling, she was slow to express anger. “How about cutting down on cigarettes?” she once suggested to a student.

But the family building program is not simply about changing how to refer to one another. It also focuses on opening hearts, forming good habits, improving academic performances, having cultural experiences, and preparing to enter the real world. The program, in other words, focuses heavily on character education.

Every other Friday during the family meeting, teachers work to understand students’ perspectives. When emphasizing the importance of greeting and behaving oneself, teachers explain with examples students can relate to, rather than telling them what in an authoritative manner.

The school atmosphere now is totally different than it was 10 years ago. Almost all the students make it to class on time and work hard. Students even welcome criticism and disciplines from their teachers. A senior at the school, Kim Eun-young, ranked first in her class this year although she had expressed no interest in studying in past years. Kim said, “My ‘dad [teacher Kim Shin-dong]’ asked me to write a planner during exam periods, so I had no choice but to study. I remember studying overnight during the latest exam period.”

Kyeongbuk also encourages its students to volunteer. Keum Hak-joon, a senior who habitually skipped class during middle school, changed dramatically after volunteering at a welfare center. He was in charge of cleaning the center when he heard someone say, “We’re thankful that you help us stay clean.” Hearing someone express such gratitude toward him was a turning point in his life. He became a member of the school’s broadcasting club and decided to be a cameraman. His grades improved dramatically, as well.

The program is also effective in prevention of school violence. Lee said, “Freshman students used to fight in a group and some students bullied weaker members. But being a family prevents things like these.”

Adding to the positive changes, Kyeongbuk started another family-oriented program last year with the support of Samsung Dream Scholarship Foundation. The new program encourages students to prepare for their careers. As a result, each family at the school has started career-related projects, such as running a campus coffee shop or painting the school yard.

The positive results started to be reflected in the school graduates’ employment rate, as well. Roughly 47.2 percent of the school’s graduates were employed in 2012, and last year, the rate increased to 75 percent, the highest employment rate in all of North Gyeongsang Province. Lee said, “We built trust with students, which automatically led to their character development. Now, our students are developing their talents. This is yet more proof that character contributes to talent.”

BY JEON MIN-HEE [kim.yuna1@joongang.co.kr]
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