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Introduction: Here we’re not outcasts

A look inside a local school where trauma-informed teaching techniques are leading to success, even for the students who have failed time and time again.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Editor’s note: This three-part series of articles and videos about the students and staff at Lakeside School in Horsham is made possible by funding from the Van Ameringen Foundation and the Reentry Project.

The Van Ameringen Foundation is supporting two years of Notebook reporting on trauma-informed education. The Notebook is one of 15 news organizations in The Reentry Project, a solutions-oriented project on the issues facing formerly incarcerated Philadelphians. The aim is to produce journalism – across the city and across media platforms – that speaks to the challenges of reentry and what can be done about them.

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Around graduation time at Lakeside School, senior vice president Brian Dager interviews each senior, and there are two questions he always asks:

“Did you ever expect to graduate from high school?”

And “Can you think of a time, prior to Lakeside, when you ever enjoyed school?”

In 90 percent of the cases, Dager says, the answer to the first question is “no.”

And in just about 100 percent of the cases, the answer to the second is “never.”

“We’re dealing with students who have experienced failure after failure after failure after failure,” Dager says.

And although the Horsham private school does not keep statistics, it has established an area-wide reputation over the years for working with students like Ray Willey of Conshohocken, who gave up on regular public schools. And vice versa.

The stakes are obvious. For one thing, the earnings of a high school graduate are about $10,000 a year higher than those of someone without a diploma.

And on a grimmer note, about 80 percent of the country’s incarcerated population are high school dropouts.

For Willey, a 19-year-old dropout and self-proclaimed “knucklehead,” Lakeside was a stop that he never expected.

Or, as his mother, Judy Willey, said at graduation, “I thought this day would never come.”

Click here to read Part 1.

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