DESCRIPTION OF THE SUCCESS STORY
This is the story of a 20-year-old male student enrolled in a professional high secondary school in Castelo Branco, Portugal. He had experienced successive failures in high secondary school, had left school and had had a professional experience in the Portuguese Navy, before enrolling again in secondary school. In his record there was some evidence that the student was addicted to some psychoactive substances and in his behaviour at school he presented himself arrogantly as a know-all and leader of the younger students. He was always very strained, excited, continuously disputed the leadership in the group, even against teachers, and had bossy attitudes towards the other students. The student’s behaviour constituted a problem for himself, since he did not feel well at school and caused disturbances, as well as for others.
During a study visit, which was a boat trip on the Tejo River, the student kept this kind of behaviour of bragging on about his experience and skills in the Navy. However, an opportunity presented itself for the school Director to mark the terrain and to make all students know who was in charge, who should be obeyed and how. The students had to cross a river, and since the larger boat was full, a smaller boat was found. The disruptive student the story is about immediately saw his chance of boasting about his skills and congregating a small number of other students around himself. He took the leadership of a smaller boat, though his plans were thwarted because the school Director without any hesitation joined the smaller group, thus neutralizing his will to lead and command. This was the first small display of power on the part of the school director to call the students’ attention to who, in fact, was in charge.
At a later stage, realizing that eventually there was consumption of psychoactive substances in the group, encouraged by that student, the Director took a position of strength and faced the group, making clear that she knew who used and traded these substances, so her authority shouldn´t be challenged, otherwise she would deliver the case to the police.
This is a success story because little by little, all the learning situations were used to show the student, that the school was rather different from the other schools he had attended. The school worked as an extended family, the student could count on everyone, but with rules to be observed.
The student developed in maturity, became very assiduous in school attendance, apart from some absences in the third year, and had a satisfactory school record. As proof of professional competence, the student chose to publicize the school educational offer. He managed to assemble about 300 former students at a dinner meeting. In the oral presentation of his final year project, and in front of his relatives, he confessed that it ”had been really hard, but...”. His no longer young parents and quite older sister, present at his presentation, reinforced understanding of the problems of this young man of a poor socio-economic background as of lack of familial support and difficult adjustment to school cultures and to an ethics of work and responsibility.
The student after leaving school at the end of secondary education, applied to a higher education, and currently attends a communication course at the university. He visits the school regularly, and always says that it was the best school and the best family that he ever had. He even invited the school headmaster to his university graduation ceremony.
The success of this case lies certainly in the professional features of the school, and the firm attitude of the school board and the teachers who were involved. A vocational/ professional school can offer an alternative curriculum, more suited to the students’ abilities and interests; it may follow them more closely and in smaller groups. These types of school are closer to students and thus can reintegrate them more effectively, as happened with this student, who is now completing a higher education course at a University.
The affectional bonds, the reliable environment and strict rules, were crucial to the student to become more responsible, and to learn self-control; self-control in his peer relations, in his relation to teachers and in relation to the school environment. This is a school and behavioural success, achieved from the awareness that the student attitudes were due to the use and trade of psychoactive substances and also to lack of familial support.