Lifelong Learning Programme

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Success Stories

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Helping an “intellectually gifted” girl
High Secondary School
Identification of students’ at risk
Main actors involved
The psycho-pedagogical counsellor, the student, her parents.

When, where and how the story took place
The experience takes place in a general education school. School year 2012-2013.

Late October, following the class council dedicated to the school report, the psycho-pedagogical counsellor of the psycho-medico-social centre – CPMS is informed of repeated absences of a 4th year girl. This girl runs the risk of becoming a so-called “free student” (not being allowed to take the final exams because of too many absences and thus not receiving a certificate).

The CPMS counsellor meets the student after the autumn holiday. The 16-year-old girl is an “intellectually gifted” student; her intellectual quotient is above 130. This girl is dropping out: school phobia and disgust.

In parallel, this student, an only daughter, has a complex family situation:
• She constantly argues with her parents “for all and nothing.
Her father, a fortyish ex-factory worker, is unemployed. He seems to wallow in it. He does not try to find a job; he spends the day doing nothing, goes to the bar … “gambles with the household money” according to the girl and puts the family in financial difficulties. At night, he hangs around, smokes “pot”, plays the Playstation, watches the television and makes a lot of noise, which keeps the girl awake. Moreover, he owns a gun. He is idle.
However, her mother has just found a job. The girl does not understand why she does nothing to shake up her husband. She is madly in love according to the girl.
• The house is very uncomfortable: too much noise (no soundproofing between the different levels), no hot water, shower in the kitchen (no intimacy), only one stove in the kitchen for the whole house, it is cold in there … The house is being refurbished but it drags on.
The girl does not sleep well and is often ill. Either she is too tired to go to school in the morning, or she gives a medical certificate.

A second interview takes place a fortnight later. The CPMS counsellor suggests the girl stays in boarding school where there is room. The girl is not against it. She had not thought about it because she lives near the school and because her family has limited means. However, she says that at home she can smoke pot with her father and that her parents leave her some freedom that she would lose in boarding school. Her answer is ambiguous. She is ambivalent.

The CPMS counsellor then meets the mother, who admits there is a parental authority problem and family arguments, especially between the girl and her father. However, she supports her husband. Financially speaking, she defuses the situation and evokes the financial situation of the household.

In December, during the parents meeting before Christmas, the mother meets the CPMS counsellor again because the problems have been discussed in family. She confirms her daughter’s ambivalence regarding boarding school and indicates that the family has taken out a loan to continue the refurbishment work of the house.

The CPMS counsellor then proposes to meet the Youth Aid Service (SAJ) to find new ideas and/or fund part of the boarding. The mother accepts and the whole family goes to the interview with a youth representative. The CPMS counsellor is present too.

The family problems are confirmed. The youth representative cannot think of anything else but boarding school, which she considers a good solution. The parents accept it. The girl tries to negotiate another boarding school where she would be freer, because she is still ambivalent. The representative sends the family to the CPAS (social aid centres for underprivileged families) to fund the boarding school and proposes with the CPMS counsellor to help the parents with the procedure.

February. The girl has been dropping out for six months. The CPMS counsellor waits for the parents’ contact to start the procedure with the CPAS.

The girl meets the counsellor again. She says the loan was granted, that the materials have arrived but that her father does nothing. The other boarding school she wanted to go to is full and she now wishes to go to that of her school. The parents seem to go back on their decision to carry out a procedure with the CPAS. The mother, who is well-informed, thinks they will not receive any help. But this change of attitude is probably due to some sort of “shame” to go to the CPAS, the difficulty to carry out such a procedure and having to talk about one’s difficulties.

During the interview (and during a later one with the mother), the counsellor realises he is used by the girl with her parents (“the counsellor said that …” ), which gets on the parents’ nerves and does nothing to solve the problems. He feels “discredited”. He hands over to the school administration.

Late March, just before Easter holidays, the girl is received by the assistant headmistress, to whom she expresses her wish to go to boarding school and her project for the rest of her education. She would like after the 4th year to join a 5th artistic section, in another school in Liège, where she could go to another boarding school. The project is realistic and interesting, educationally speaking. It is supported by the school.

The administration quickly makes an appointment with the mother. The interview is decisive. After Easter holidays, the girl goes to boarding school and the mother has taken a second job to pay for it.

However, the girl has difficulties integrating in the boarding school. She does not accept the rules regarding studies, functioning or the timetable. She cries, she phones her mother who calls the CPMS.

Eventually, this difficulty to integrate only lasted 2/3 days and seems to be frequent. Most young girls have this difficulty when they arrive.

The girl is now well integrated, she accepts the rules and goes to class every day. She will be able to finish the year serenely and have the intermediated certificate with reorientation, in order to join artistic education. She no longer seeks the CPMS counsellor (only once about her father’s behaviour, she still would like to see change). Dropping out is solved, it will have lasted nearly eight months.

Reasons why the story can be considered successful.
• The girl is no longer dropping out. She will finish the year.
• She is integrated in the boarding school.
• She has a project for the rest of her studies. A realistic project with meaning that will motivate her.

Starting point of the student
One third of intellectually gifted children have difficulties in secondary school. They have never studied, they succeeded without working! In second grade, when subjects become harder, they have gaps (among other in languages) and end up with failures. In parallel, interpersonal problems develop, with “scapegoat” situations …
Ill-being sets in (school disgust and phobia), which tends to jeopardise success.

The young girl is in this situation. She is in failure and will have difficulties finishing her year. She is isolated in the class because of her “high potential” but she is not rejected. She is disgusted with school and drops out. Any means will do not to go to school (such as little credible medical certificate).

To this problem she adds important family difficulties, relationally (conflict with the parents) and materially speaking (decent life conditions seem absent in her house).

Her situation is complex, but she has the ability to get through it. She is intelligent and has a strong character.
Possible explanation of the success
• The girl felt she was listened to and supported by the CPMS counsellor and the other actors.
• The girl took on her responsibilities. She chose boarding school despite her ambivalence. She hoped to make her father change, but eventually she accepted to change and distanced herself from her family.
• The parents agreed and the mother found financial means to pay for boarding school. Everybody ended up with honour.
• Things have moved on in the family, even though everything is not solved.
• The school responded quickly to the demand of the CPMS and took over.
• The girl proposed a credible project of studies.

Interaction between the different actors involved
• The collaboration between the CPMS, the Youth Aid Service and the school was excellent. The actors know each other work in network.
• The family (mainly the mother) kept a permanent dialogue with the CPMS counsellor, including in difficult moments.

Transferability potential of the experience
This complex situation could be solved because the actors listened to the girl and the parents.
The time it took (3/4 year) to set up the solution was too long, everybody agrees, but the situations are always more complex than they may seem.
Ideas need time to mature, people to evolve. It had to be the family’s, “their” decision. Everyone needed to have their mindset understood.

20 December 2014

Final Partners’ meeting

The fourth partners’ meeting took place in Florence (IT) on 15 December 2014. The meeting had the objective to check the activities carried out since the third meeting of the project and share and assess the in progress results. A special focus has been dedicated to the presentation of the strategies to solve the case scenarios.