School Distress Signals

images 8 School Distress SignalsWhat distress signal might your teen be sending?

You child’s school is a different world: relationships, victories, disappointments, troubles, tests, clubs, sports, bullies, and teachers. Sometimes it’s hard for adults to remember that the day-to-day world our kids face is a complex one.

How can we know that all is OK in their world? Our kids depend on us to support and protect them, even when we can’t be with them. Here are some school distress signals our kids might be sending to alert us when things are not alright:

  1. Evasion: Is your child evasive when asked about homework, grades or relationships? They could be hiding problems. Breaking eye contact, changing the subject and defensiveness are all evasive tactics kids can use to pull the spotlight off of trouble areas. Our job as parents is to compassionately press in during these times and seek to help. Lock in empathy, ask a lot of questions, and plan for follow up (letting them know you’ll be following up with teachers, etc.).
  1. Change in daily homework rhythms: Does it seem like your student is spending less time on homework? Does he give a consistent “no” when asked if he has any studying to do? This could be an indication that he is behind in a class. A quick check of online grade books, and/or an email to teachers can be easy ways to get to the bottom of things.
  1. Frequent “sick” days, or late to school: This could be an indication of social/peer issues. Navigating the complex social structure of school is difficult enough for students when there aren’t problems, but if a child is faced with bullying or hurtful gossip, it can overwhelm them. Don’t accept frequent sick days at face value. School attendance is important, and missing school will cause issues to compound (such as missing assignments, tests, coursework). Once again, engage in conversation, speak with teachers, and communicate with school counselors.
  1. Poor attitude at home: Kids tend to bring their problems home with them. If your child seems to have developed a terrible attitude, there might be something behind it. Conflicts at school often manifest themselves through talking back, using language that isn’t normal for your household, or sarcasm. This problem can be tough, as parents will many times address the symptom instead of the problem. Next time your child displays a poor attitude, try to respond by asking questions. “Is everything alright?” can open the door to a great conversation with your child. It may take work to get through the initial behavior, but keep at it!

Open and frequent communication is the common ingredient to not only picking up on school distress, but also to help your child in his or her time of need.

Chad Smith
ELA Teacher/Academic Dean

Compassion Fatigue

iStock 000013332733Medium 300x200 Compassion FatigueRecently, I spent a few days at the NATSAP conference on behalf of Shelterwood. I was fortunate enough to hear John Townsend speak on boundaries. He shared about the cost of not keeping healthy boundaries for parents and care workers (compassion fatigue). Here are a few of the thoughts that I felt were particularly helpful.

Teens Need Boundaries

Adolescence is an important stage for kids to push against parents in an effort to build autonomy. Without boundaries, teens are more likely to become depressed, anxious, angry and detached. Of course, it is not easy to put boundaries in place and maintain them. Boundaries can feel like battle lines as teens love to say, ‘no,’ but often struggle hearing the word ‘no’ themselves. Yet we all know, as successful adults, that hearing the word no is a part of life. It is critical to be able to deal with our emotions when someone says no to us.

Boundaries will feel harsh if they are not built with love and empathy. But make no mistake; there still needs to be a line. Without boundaries, teens can become aggressive, believing that the world is their ‘property.’ Other teens that have experienced boundary violations may become depressed and allow others to trample on their boundaries sexually, emotionally, or physically because they have come to believe that they have no ‘property.’

If not creating boundaries leaves our kids or clients struggling into adulthood, then why is it so hard for us to maintain clear boundaries? Why might we so quickly give in to the demands of our teens, friends, co-workers or spouses?

  1. Afraid of losing the relationship

Relationships are critical to each of our lives and they are often what keep us going. It is easy for us as parents or counselors to build entitlement within our kids or clients because we are safe for them and we feel special when they seek us out. So we might give them extra time, money, or praise when what would actually be better for them is to hear the word ‘no.’ They need to hear no even when giving them a longer counseling session might seem useful, or when giving them their full allowance even though chores are undone in order for them to buy that special pair of pants that will generate a hug and a smile. Teens become entitled so quickly when boundaries are not kept. It is so easy to drift from compassion into co-dependency. When we are afraid of losing a relationship with a distant teen, friend, or spouse, he or she quickly has leverage on us and this is a dangerous power for anyone to have, especially teens. In order to combat the need for your teen’s approval, try to create a ‘life team,’ a group of adults that can support and encourage you outside of the home. Don’t rely on your kids to nurture you, lest you give them too much power.

  1. Conflict Avoidance

Each of us learned how to deal with conflict when we were nine years old. Take a moment to think back to those young years in your childhood home. Maybe you learned how to explode with anger, change the subject, or laugh. Each of these techniques does not really deal with the conflict. The inability to manage conflict leaves you weak in the face of opposition and trying to defend yourself when you actually do say ‘no’ in order to create a boundary around a behavior. Townsend encourages people to role-play in an effort to change the neurology in the brain. It is critical that we as parents and care givers learn to confront conflict and become able to embrace the emotions that come along with saying ‘no’ in order to win the long- term battle of autonomy.

  1. Fear of Failure

We create a fragile teen when we don’t think they can handle boundaries. They become more insecure when we fail to provide the security of rules and follow through. Teens need to learn how to adapt to the difficulties of the world and that failure is part of life. As parents and counselors, we often perceive struggling teens as weak and incapable of dealing with failure. We might unconsciously believe that their drug addiction, depression or anger is the result of difficulty in their lives, and that if we can just remove the difficulty, then they won’t need to self medicate by cutting their arms, getting high, or acting out sexually. When we see them as fragile, we tend to compensate for their weaknesses and enable them to maintain these behaviors. Trying to keep your teen happy and safe will wear you out and fail to teach them how to survive on their own. So often we tiptoe around our teens when they struggle with depression, anger, anxiety, and/or learning difficulties that we actually build greater insecurity in them and continue to perpetuate a dependence on us. While this might make us feel needed and important in the relationship, we are actually just enabling co-dependence.

If you struggle to create boundaries with your teen, ask yourself these four questions when they make a request for your help:

  1. Is this something that they can do for themselves?
  2. Do you have the resources to help?
  3. Will you feel cheerful or resentful after helping them?
  4. Is the outcome going to build autonomy or dependence?


One of THE Most Important Ingredients for Academic Success

student computer 300x205 Self AdvocatingOne of the most significant foundations for academic success, and becoming a successful adult, is self-advocating.

What does it mean for a student to advocate for himself in the classroom? Simply put, advocating is sticking up for something or someone. When a student advocates for himself, he is simply speaking up for his interests in the classroom or in any other setting.

Practically speaking, self-advocating looks like this:

  1. A student doesn’t understand the course material, and takes action as a result. He can ask questions, speak with the teacher outside of class, do extra work, and/or seek peer assistance, all of which would help him understand the content better.
  1. A student misses an assignment, and desires to make it up. This student can speak directly with the teacher, find out her options, and then do the work without missing a beat.
  1. A student struggles with peers in class. A self-advocating student will seek to repair relationships on her own, but if issues continue (bullying, gossip, etc), she will speak with the teacher, a school counselor or principal.
  1. A student has a learning difficulty or disability. This student can speak up for academic accommodation or adaptations in their educational program. When a student himself drives his academic services, he will receive more help.

No matter if a child is outgoing or shy, everyone can learn to speak up for themselves more effectively at school.

But what might happen if the students in the four examples above don’t advocate for themselves?

  1. A student who doesn’t advocate for himself will stay quiet when he doesn’t understand material. The problem compounds when he fails to master key building concepts and subsequent material becomes progressively more difficult. This may lead to a student believing he is “stupid” or incapable of learning.
  1. A student who is uncomfortable with speaking to teachers might let missing assignments go undone, simply so he doesn’t have to speak with the instructor. This may lend to failing grades and deeper level of anxiety in this student.
  1. Teenagers are notorious for remaining silent when they are experiencing peer trouble. The ones that don’t seek help may begin to skip school, do poorly academically, or (even worse) experience physical harm. They may fear being labeled as a “tattletale,” but they need to know that there are caring people who would love to help them if they would simply ask.
  1. Growth for a student with learning a learning disability begins with her becoming comfortable speaking with staff about her issues. If this student understands and utilizes the help that is offered, she stands a much better chance of success. If she can be actively involved in her accommodations, this will lead to improved confidence. She can then ask for help more readily and remind staff of the adaptations that are in place (such as extra time for homework or tests).

If your student is experiencing difficulties in school, encourage him or her to stick up for him/herself! It is a crucial first step on the road to success in school and in life.

Chad Smith
ELA Teacher/Academic Dean

Shelterwood CEO thanks the staff

 DSC 2008 copy e1417458820659 200x300 Shelterwood CEO thanks the staffDear Shelterwood Team:

I want to take a moment this Thanksgiving Holiday and thank you for your service and your dedication to Jesus and to the kids and families we serve at Shelterwood.  I have told many people that I am very proud of our entire Shelterwood team.

I would like to share a wonderful complement we just received from John DeVries from a conversation he had with the CEO and Founder of one of the other “Jesus focused faith based” programs in the country.  They had a Education Consultant visit their program and the consultant told them that “Shelterwood was the gold standard of Christian programs.”   It is a huge encouragement that the perspective regarding us continues to be so positive.

And I recognize that this positive report is due first to the favor and blessing of God, and then second to the hard work of a wonderful and dedicated team of people.  Please join me this Thanksgiving in thanking God for His favor and blessing, and ask Him to continue to give us wisdom, divine protection, and to send us those kids and families that we can help.

I also want to share a story with you from our trip home on the airplane from Ft Lauderdale to Dallas with our team of 35 from Haiti.   I am going to leave off the specific names.  You can certainly guess the names, but the purpose is not to single our any particular staff members, but instead to give you a picture of the perception of our Shelterwood team by those watching.

I was seated on the exit row aisle, and I boarded the flight first so that I could check off our kids as they boarded the plane.  One of our young adult staff brought up the rear, and he checked the kids off in the lounge as they boarded the plane.  Seated across from me in the exit row aisle was a middle-aged woman who was interested in my list and struck up a conversation.  It turns out that she was a psychologist and had placed one of her children in a residential program a number of years ago.  She started the conversation by telling me how well behaved and respectful that our kids had been in the waiting area at the airport.   She told me about a couple conversations that she had with our kids prior to boarding, and she was very complimentary.

Towards the end of the boarding process, one of our girls was unable to find luggage space in the overhead bins, and she came to me and began to cry, saying “my mom and dad told me to keep this with me and not to check it, what am I going to do?”  One of our team immediately got up and pulled their own bag out of the overhead bin so that she had space for her bag, and then took their bag to the front of the plane to be gate checked.    The female psychologist next to me watched this transpire, and said nothing.

Then halfway through the flight, one of our young adult leaders knelt down in the aisle next to me and told me that one of our female teens was using foul language and cursing out one of our female staff.  It had evidently caught the attention of the senior flight attendant who had warned her that if she did not behave herself, she would not be allowed to board her connecting flight.   I instructed this young adult leader to move our most senior female staff member to the seat adjacent to this young woman and to explain to her the consequences of her behavior.  And that if she did not change her behavior and apologize to the flight attendant, she would not board the next flight, and I would drive her from Dallas to KC with one of our female staff.   The female psychologist next to me watched this transpire, and said nothing.

Then I got up and went to the front of the plane to visit with all four of the flight attendants on the flight.  I introduced myself to them, explained who we were, and where we had just been.  Among other things, I told them that fourteen of these kids had just been baptized in the Caribbean, and that we had a team of 35 on the plane and 34 were behaving themselves.  I apologized for the “one” who was misbehaving.  I assured them that we do not approve of that behavior, and that there would be consequences.  I said that “I fully support your decision should you choose to refuse her boarding the next flight.  We will simply rent a car and drive her back to KC from Dallas.”   The flight attendants couldn’t have been more kind, gracious and understanding.  They wanted to know about Shelterwood and what we do.   I then went back to my seat, and while I was sitting there, the lead flight attendant brought me two bags of stuff… when I looked inside, I found a sample of most of the stuff you can purchase on the plane:  a bottle of wine, chips, nuts, hummus and cheese, etc..   They thanked me for what we do and said that they just wanted to bless me with these things as a gift.  The female psychologist next to me watched this transpire, and said nothing.DSC 2007 copy e1417458765471 200x300 Shelterwood CEO thanks the staff

After the airplane landed, the female psychologist leaned over and with tears in her eyes, said, “I wish that I had known about a facility like yours to place my child in when he was struggling.  Your team is absolutely amazing.”   This was a huge compliment from a woman who watched our kids and our staff interact for several hours, and I would agree with her.  We do have much to be thankful for!  God has blessed us with a great team!    Thanks again for all you do!

I know that you may be working this Thanksgiving, and as a result, you will be missing your family.  Thank you for your service to Jesus and to us at Shelterwood.  Your service has not gone unnoticed in heaven, and our entire team is grateful as well.   As Corrie Ten Boom used to say, “If you obey God and give of your life, time and possessions generously, you will discover that you cannot out-give God.  God will do amazing things for you and through you.”  God is doing amazing things here at Shelterwood.  Thanks so much for the important part that you play in our ministry to struggling teens and their families.

May God bless you this Thanksgiving!

Blessings, Jim
Shelterwood CEO


What is the impact of social media on your teen?

Screen Shot 2015 06 02 at 1.08.52 PM 300x195 What is the impact of social media on your teen?These days, being a celebrity can be as simple as doing your job. For Alex, a Texas High School student who works at Target, this couldn’t be any more apparent. You see, Alex works at Target as a cashier and one day a girl who is known as, ‘Rim’ on Twitter, tweeted a photo of Alex bagging her groceries. Now, that tweet has been shared nearly a million times and Alex has more than half a million followers. He has been tweeted by Target and Google, and even has even been contacted to be on the Ellen Show. Throughout the day, #Alexfromtarget has been the top trending post on Twitter. And, all Alex had to do was do his job and be found to look somewhat like Justin Bieber by teenage twitter users.

What’s interesting is that this celebrity-making phenomenon is by no means new to Alex’s story. Social Media has been the creator of many pseudo-celebrities. There have been many scientific studies published in the last few years about the social phenomenon of celebrity-making social media sites. Social media users create their own reality. They become mini celebrities in an entirely me based reality. From research topics that show how ‘selfies’ breed narcissism to entire Facebook photo albums staged to look like the user is on an exotic vacation, social scientists have considered it all. In the last year I have read positive reviews of Facebook being a help in overcoming drug addiction to negative reviews of Facebook fueling cyber bullying.

So, where does your teen fall in the midst of this social media debate? Perhaps your son or daughter has been involved in some painful cyber bullying either as a victim or an aggressor. Or, maybe your teen simply loves posting selfies. Either way, it’s important to open a discussion about what social media means. Often, it is difficult to put boundaries on social media usage, especially when it gets out of hand. But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Open up discussions with your teen about how social media has affected them and what they use it for.

While we may just shake our head at the silliness of nearly a million people retweeting a picture of a teenager doing his job, we cannot ignore that this is a huge part of our teenagers’ lives. Invite your teenager to discuss the impact of social media with you. It’ll give you a different perspective into their lives and maybe, just maybe, help you understand why #alexfromtarget is such a big deal.

What’s in a name?

IMG 4847 copy What’s in a name?What’s in a name? First grade is learning the meanings of our names. The idea started in British Columbia, Canada. There are a few places in North America farther from The Geneva School’s Early Childhood Campus than this remote section of the Canadian Rockies, but not many. This summer, a group of troubled teens agreed to challenge themselves: to leave everything they knew behind and head into the Canadian wilderness for ten days. Each came from widely differing backgrounds. Among them, there was a pastor’s daughter who had been deceived and lured into prostitution; another young teenager was trying to escape the vicious web of drug addiction; still another was so painfully frightened by life that she wanted only to peer around her mother’s shoulder like a shy four year old; and there was a beautiful young woman who looked in the mirror and saw not what the world saw, but ugliness, shame, and a life she believed was an unwanted mistake. Each brought with them emotional and spiritual baggage that far outweighed the small backpack they were allowed to bring on the adventure.

As the young couple, John and Stacy, who were to lead these young women prepared for the girls’ visit, they scouted trailsIMG 4652 copy What’s in a name? and gathered supplies for camping: tents, kayaks, paddle boards, equipment, food, and water. They also prepared their hearts and minds for what they hoped would be a life changing time for their guests. They prayed fervently that by leaving behind the familiar trappings of busyness and comfort, these girls would be awed by creation and its Creator. Stacy asked for brief histories and pictures of each girl so that she could pray for them by name and with their image in mind. She hoped that by studying each face and knowing a little about their struggles and gifts she might feel a connection before they even met. As she prayed for each life, heart, and face, she had an idea. Each name she lifted in prayer was so beautiful. Each must have been chosen with great hope for a full, vibrant, joyful life. What did their names mean? In Bible times names were given after careful consideration of their meaning. God clearly chose certain names and even gave new names to identify and recognize renewed hearts and remarkable circumstances. God’s name itself is so holy, it can’t even be uttered nor limited to a single word. Names are significant. Stacy decided to look up the meaning of each girls’ name. At the very least, it would be fun and interesting to share the meanings with her new friends.

IMG 4815 copy What’s in a name?The ten days were cold, often rainy, and, as the girls later said, God showed up and showed off! These city girls slept in tents, cooked their meals over camp fires, took turns keeping the fire alive through the storms, and found a place where they could be still. As they took in the breathtaking views of snowcapped mountains, verdant meadows, deep crystal blue lakes, and mile high waterfalls, they felt appropriately small. They also realized that the very same Creator who formed each tiny blade of grass for His own glory and for their pleasure, loved each of them with no limits or boundaries. It was unfathomable, yet they glimpsed it and felt it take root in each battered, hurting heart.

On the ninth and final evening, Stacy shared with the girls that she had researched each of their names before she ever met them. She anticipated curiosity and perhaps even laughter as the girls learned the meanings of the names their parents had chosen almost twenty years before. What she couldn’t have known was that God was about to show up, and show off. As she went around the circle of girls gathered around their final campfire, she watched as the meaning of each name touched some precious, long neglected place in each heart. Tears began to flow as the girls realized that their names were symbols of their very identity in Christ, and appeared to be the root of every battle in their young lives. The young girl who had been seduced into selling her body learned that her name means “seen by Yahweh,” and that she is named after the holy place where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac but was mercifully relieved of the cost of that obedience. It is the very same place where Solomon later built the temple that would honor the God of the universe. As they turned to 1 Corinthians 6:19, they could scarcely breathe as they read that her body is a temple to the Holy Spirit, and that Yahweh sees her and is merciful. She had felt beautiful and desired when she gave her body to men, and she now saw clearly through that lie. Her beauty and value was more real than she had ever imagined, and came from her identity in Christ alone.  Then Stacy turned to the stunningly lovely face of the girl whose arms are a roadmap of her unbearable pain. In her despair, this beautiful girl had routinely taken a razor blade to the flesh on her arms. What had begun as secret, hidden attempts to relieve the pain of her self-loathing and doubt, soon had no shame or need to hide under protective clothing. The shock and disgust she pretended not to see on the faces of strangers who saw her arms only mirrored her own disgust and feelings of worthlessness. Not one inch of this young girl’s arms and shoulders were free of deep, raw, brutal trails of a razor, but on this night powerful words of truth poured over her like healing oil. She learned that her name means beauty, elegance, and a gift of God. The worthlessness and ugliness she imagined were lies from the very pit of Hell.

IMG 4785 copy What’s in a name?Each of the ten girls received the balm of seeing their identity in Christ in the name chosen for them so long ago. The painfully shy and fearful girl who could barely peek from around her mother’s shoulder learned her name means, “she will see.” One who doubted both her beauty and her worth found out that her name means “fair” both in appearance and in judgment. The evening was life changing. Their struggles and battles weren’t over, but the lies they’d clung to had been bathed in the light of Truth and had lost some of their power. The girls had to leave that Canadian mountaintop the next day. The valleys and shadows were waiting; but each had been given a gift they could cling to forever. The story of that night would be passed on and celebrated even in a dot on the map of Central Florida, a continent away from that mountain in British Columbia.

As The Geneva School first grade teachers prepared for this new school year, we eagerly received class lists and began to pray for each child and family the names represented. This summer the faculty was given the assignment to think through the activities of the first days of school, and try to see them anew. The challenge was to reevaluate a practice and breathe fresh air into it by adding, omitting, or changing parts of it. Were the ends being best accomplished by the current means or was there a better way? First grade traditionally begins the year celebrating that we are children of the King. Each child has value and significance because he or she is a son or daughter of the King of Kings. As we looked at the names of our new students, we thought of that night in Canada and decided to explore the meaning of each first grader’s name. Hearts began to pound as we recognized that not only were we enhancing a current practice, but that it perfectly meshed with the focus of the yearlong Chapel lessons, the Names of God. Each week Mrs. Heinsch shares a new name of God from the Bible. She teaches that He is too big, too holy to be contained in one name. The children learn there are more than 700 names for God in the Bible, and they learn dozens of them through the year: Elohim, strong Creator; El Emeth, God of Truth; Jehovah Jireh, the Lord will provide; Abba, Father. We’ve been teaching that there is power in His name for years, but never that God’s purpose could be seen in the name of a six year old. One idea led to another, and soon a whole new curriculum was created based on Isaiah 49:16: Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. 

Before the children stepped foot in their new first grade cottages, the teachers researched their names, and called each child’s parents to find out why that name had been chosen. The teachers delighted in hearing the stories and tapping into the hearts and lives of each family. The stories were as varied and unique as each child. Some names were chosen to honor a beloved family member, or in memory of a special place. Others simply sounded appropriately beautiful and mellifluous for their exquisite newborn son or daughter. Still others were carefully researched for their meaning and origin. In every case, the names were chosen with love, tenderness, and hopeful anticipation of a meaningful life. The first grade team realized there was value in sharing the meaning of each name with the class. Would we be able to see our student’s identity in Christ in the meaning of each name as the year unfolded? Perhaps the students themselves would begin to see untapped passion in the one whose name means “the fiery one”, or recognize the innate kindness of the child whose name means “noble, kind.”

Aiden What’s in a name? Alli What’s in a name? Owen What’s in a name? Victoria What’s in a name?
Each morning we begin our day in first grade with our Bible lesson. The children learn a song or hymn, practice Scripture memorization, and listen to God’s word and message in His wonderful stories. This year our classes also stop and lean in as a classmate is in held in the arms of his teacher and recognized. We share the meaning of the name specially chosen for him. Sometimes that leads to laughter, but they are giggles of delight, not mocking. We tell the story of how his parents joyfully selected that perfect name. We recognize that God knew his name even before he was born; even before his parents did! We discuss what it means that his name is engraved on the very palm of God’s hand. We talk about how painful it would be, to both that child and to God, for anyone to take that carefully chosen name and twist it for teasing or unkindness. Knowing that parents will also delight in each unique name story and meaning, we are also featuring a boy and girl in our weekly first grade Florida Flash. Will our precious six year old charges remember each meaning and story? Probably not. Have the seeds of recognizing each other’s value in Christ been sown? We trust with eyes of faith that they have. The addition of our Isaiah 49:16 curriculum has brought great joy and depth to the start of our year in the First Grade Cottages. We are far from a campfire in the majestic heights of the Canadian Rockies, but God is no less present and no less eager to cover us with the balm of His perfect love and purpose. What’s in a name? Our first graders are learning it’s much more than the letters they write at the top of every paper. The Lord of Hosts has engraved it on His palm. Hallelujah!

L. O’Donoghue