ON THE ROAD – Back to Cottage 4


Forty years ago today I walked in to a cottage on a residential program campus on the North Side of Pittsburgh; a place that would be my own primary residence for the next three years. I would live there five days a week working with twelve girls and boys. I just took the job as a place-holder until I started law school. It turns out that law school was not meant to be part of my story. I had no intention that this would be the beginning of my career. As it turns out, it was the most meaningful and important job I’ve ever had. It set the course of my life and was the gateway to my profession. As I looked forward to this anniversary, I have reflected a great deal on that time and place.

The teachers who have influenced my life cross a wide spectrum of fame, disciplines, experience and age. There were three great influences on my professional life in the earliest days of my career. First was the work of Nicholas Hobbs and what is known simply as Re-ED. His focus on wellness rather than pathology, on teaching rather than therapy, on the future rather than the past, and on the ecology of a young person rather than serving them in isolation guided me (us) from simplistic barbarian behaviorism to the promise of being teacher-counselors.

The second was my teacher-counselor colleagues who transformed with me. Some of whom I continue to count among my closest friends. We learned together and supported each other to take risks to apply what we learned. We committed to stay and continue to be learners. We pushed each other to be the best we could be in the inexact and evolving social science, mental health, education, and juvenile justice worlds that encompassed the lives of the young people and families we served. We wanted to be the teacher-counselors that Hobbs described in The Troubled and Troubling Child: “But most of all, a teacher/counselor is a decent adult; educated, well trained; able to give and receive affection, to live relaxed, and to be firm; a person with private resources for the nourishment and refreshment of his own life; not an itinerant worker but a professional through and through; a person with a sense of the significance of time, of the usefulness of today and the promise of tomorrow; a person of hope, quiet confidence, and joy; one who has committed himself to children and to the proposition that children who are disturbed can be helped by the process of reeducation.”

The third great influence were the young people themselves. One of the Re-ED principles we learned from Nick Hobbs is “Trust between and child and adult is essential, the foundation on which all the other principles rest, the glue that holds teaching and learning together…” While Hobbs eloquence inspired us, the young people taught us how to bring that to life. We worked with them for months and sometimes years and there were many battles. The battles were for power, place, influence and understanding. Hobbs told us but they showed us the significance of being a trusted other in the life of a child. They would let us in if we showed them we cared and we were willing to earn that trust.

Once, in the midst of a chaotic breakdown of order and safety throughout the entire campus, we invited all 48 kids to come back in and help us start a new order where they had more voice and ownership in how our program ran. It wasn’t a random or haphazard decision. We had been planning to transform our program using group process principles that were part of the Re-ED approach. We did it then because it seemed like a good time to try something different.

It worked. It worked for a couple reasons. First, we were as ready as we could be at the time to implement this change. Second, and most importantly, it worked because the kids accepted our invitation and were willing to try. The first one to come in was a girl in our cottage, Gina. She was young, maybe thirteen, and yet she had a presence and a toughness that gave her influence. After she led the way, all the other kids went back to their cottages and we began our new world order in that place on the hill on the North Side of Pittsburgh. In a recent post I mentioned Bonita and there were so many others; Anna, Donna, Kim, Missy, Garnett, Zena, Danny, Tarik, Sam, Brett, Joe, Bobby & Jimmy. Some of them want us to stay a part of their lives and stay in touch.

Among the abundant blessings I count in my life is the influence of those young people as teachers and constant reminders that our work has meaning, purpose and power. Now, forty years later, I am part of an organization begun by a different man, visionary in his own unique way, who said that kids “just need a shirttail to hang onto.”

Today, I heard from Steve Kozak, one of that group of teacher-counselors I mentioned earlier, who now leads a program that will move young people back in to Cottage 4 for the first time in 34 years. The place we used to live and work was transformed from a residential setting to offices and has been recently renovated to serve its original purpose.


I hope those young people find peace, hope and promise in the company of committed, passionate learners who live up to the honor of being teacher-counselors. As for me, I’m not done yet and I hope to have the chance to meet and work with you sometime soon

Shooting for the Stars

On Monday, 14 Year-old Ahmed Mohamed, brought his homemade clock to school to show his engineering teacher. By the end of the day he ended up being taken away in handcuffs (read more here). What should have been an opportunity to encourage Ahmed’s aspirations in engineering turned into suspicion by educators and a police accusation of a hoax bomb.

Although it is widely understood that schools must ensure the safety of all stakeholders, how can we as educators create spaces where students like Ahmed may grow as an engineer or inventor? How do we make inventing commonplace so that when a homemade clock shows up our first thought isn’t bomb? Instead our first thought could be “Wow! Another cool kid-powered invention!”

At Cal Farley’s we have begun to build those inventor spaces into our daily lives.  Designing, programing, and building are skills we actively encourage and promote on our campus.  We believe that a whole community can become a learning lab, a concept we call Community As Lab.   To support this effort we have created hands-on learning laboratories where youth have dedicated spaces for tinkering, designing and making.  We believe that these activities stimulate learning by providing real world application for principles learned in the classroom.

Thankfully for Ahmed there was an outpouring of support from all over the world encouraging him to continue doing what he is doing.  Do you know any youth like Ahmed?  Here’s how to get them and your school involved…

How to become involved:
Create a maker space in your school.
Find a community makerspace, like these in Dallas and Milwaukee, or check out TechShop, a chain of maker spaces located across the United States.
Look for a Maker Faire near you and take a  young maker to visit and actively participate in the event.

Books I recommend:
Design. Make, Play: Growing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators by Margaret Honey and David E. Kanter
Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager

I leave you with this video from Community As Lab’s recent rocket launch.  We truly do want our kids to shoot for the stars.

ON THE ROAD – In Memory of Bonita Smith


In Memory of Bonita Smith

During my forty years in this work, I have been blessed by the presence of many wonderful teachers. The often-stated phrase “on the shoulders of giants” applies to the careers of many of us working with young people and families across a range of related disciplines. Before most of those teachers made their way in to my life, however, the learning curve was very steep.

My introduction to this work, in a residential program in Pittsburgh, was really by happenstance and with my every intention of proceeding on another career path. My two teammates and I worked on a rotating live-in schedule of four days on and two days off and much of our learning was through immersion. In the earliest days of my career I had yet to be trained in much of anything except the rudimentary understanding of behaviorism imparted to us by the more senior staff. The light at the end of the tunnel was Re-ED, based on the work of Nicholas Hobbs, Campbell Loughmiller and others. Re-ED was among the first strength-based, principle-based frameworks for working with vulnerable young people and their families.

The first group of young people that my colleagues and I worked with helped us evolve from behavioral barbarians to teacher-counselors. The primary reason I stayed in this work rather than pursue my intended path were the young people I worked with and among them was thirteen year old Bonita Smith. Bonita was a very pretty girl with a very sweet nature.  She could also be very stubborn and opinionated.  Bonita and I bonded in the quiet time early on Sunday mornings. I would be awake early to drink my coffee and read the Sunday paper. Predictably, I would hear the bedroom door open down the hall and then the shuffling of Bonita’s slippers heading toward the dining room. In that first hour on those mornings we connected, two young people in different stages of development trying to figure it out.

Our residential program, like many others in those days, received supplies in bulk from the most economical vendor. We dispensed personal hygiene supplies to our kids through whatever system was in place and thought little of it. One day, Bonita was sharing her opinion on the quality of the supplies using specific descriptors such as “cheap and nasty”. With her squinty-eyed look, she was intent on making sure I understood that she was really serious about this. Countering with my own opinion, I lectured her about how she should appreciate what was given to her. What happened next changed things, especially me.

Bonita, clearly not benefiting from my lecture, stood up in a way that indicated she was exasperated with me. With her hand on her hip and her squinty look a bit tighter she said, “Mr. Freado, you don’t know anything about being a black girl!”

The immediate silence that followed caught her attention and she just stood there as my mind searched for a response. I had no ready lecture for that. All I could say was, “What do I need to know?” At that, Bonita yelled down the hall for Missy and told her to bring Mr. Sedley, my teammate, Craig.

Bonita and Missy proceeded to teach us about their needs; skin and hair care, among others. They were quite clear and effective. Craig and I became their advocates for change.  This resulted in changes in the way supplies were purchased and dispensed by the program.

Bonita’s admonition and explanation was a significant point in my own learning and growth as a teacher-counselor. Sometimes our best teachers are the young people and families in whose lives we are thrust. I have told this story often because of its significance to me and my hope that others can also benefit. Most recently, I told this story in a keynote at a conference at the University of Winnipeg. Two weeks later I learned from my colleague and friend, Steve Kozak, that Bonita passed away last year.

I was very sad to hear this news in many ways. Part of my sadness is that I never got to tell her about how important she has been in my career and life. I’m sure she knew at the time. Bonita and I had more time together after that important teachable moment and she had the chance to see and benefit from what she influenced.

Thank you, Bonita, with love from an increasingly more enlightened Mr. Freado.

ON THE ROAD – Where do we fall, where do we stand?


Where do we fall, where do we stand?

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak;
courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
Winston Churchill

Imagine that you chaperone a group of fifty-seven elementary and middle school students on an outing.  There, these young students were accosted with verbal insults and doused with beer, not by other students but rather by other adults.

As I imagine myself being in that situation as a chaperone, I think of the anger that would well up in me and my struggle to focus on safety while setting a good example for the kids. It would be a challenge to re-channel my fight reaction to a more measured response. That’s just me and yet I know it isn’t just me; many of you might also experience the same double struggle in this situation.

On January 24, 2015, Native American students, along with their chaperones, from American Horse School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota did experience the scene described above. They attended a minor league hockey game at the Rapid City Convention Center. The students earned this outing for their exemplary behavior and academic achievement in school.

The Rapid City Rush hockey team enjoys a lot of support from throughout the community.  These students took particular interest as the team recently had two Canadian First Nations players on their roster. According to an article on Indianz.com, “What is often overlooked inside of the arena is a unique sense of unity that transcends the socio-economic, racial, and geographic divisions that often keep South Dakotans at an arms distance from one another.” According to one Native fan in attendance at a recent game, “The Rush hockey games may be the only place in the state where 5,000 people can be seen cheering for Native athletes – all at the same time.”

It was during the third period while the students were enjoying an exciting game that the harassment and assault started.  The adults in a private box above their seats began to taunt the students and their chaperones with racial slurs. They also threw beer on the students. The chaperones escorted the students from the game early. Later authorities from Pine Ridge filed a formal complaint.

The Rapid City Journal reported that within days of the incident, a witness came forward to provide a perspective.  This witness, a man from Sturgis, SD; said he was seated 10 to 15 seats away from the American Horse School student group. The witness, a season ticket-holder said this student group was one of the best-behaved groups of young people he has seen in his years of attending games.

While too far away to hear what was happening, the witness said he saw two men in the skybox above the students “who seemed to be taking real pleasure in continuing the confrontation” with an adult member of the school group.

The group left before the game ended, leaving three empty rows. The witness said the men in the skybox “seemed to gloat over what they had accomplished in chasing the student group from the game” and handed out a number of beers to other fans in what the witness said appeared to be a “celebration.” He said several other people in the skybox “seemed extremely uncomfortable with what was going on.”

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke

The Rapid City police department responded to the complaint lodged on behalf of the students and their adult chaperones with a reported 550 hours of interviews with more than 150 people. The result was the arrest of one man, from Phillip, SD, who was charged with disorderly conduct. In a recent court decision, it was determined that the man arrested will face only a fine and no time in jail – if found guilty by a judge. That decision left many people, including the city attorney for Rapid City, dissatisfied. Final disposition of this case is expected in August.

Issues regarding racial antagonism, including this one, continue to make national and international news.  Such incidents foster important heated debates.

The disposition of this incident as a legal matter is just one small, yet significant, part of the challenge. By all accounts these young people and the adults accompanying them were engaged in appropriately cheering on their team. It may be that the only thing that distinguished them from others in that part of the arena was being Native Americans. To be accosted verbally and otherwise just for being who they are is part of what they experience on a more regular basis than many of us would like to believe. The sensitivities of historic trauma and historic mistrust cannot be minimized or ignored.

The mayor of Rapid City, Sam Kooiker, has issued several statements regarding this issue expressing his concerns for improving race relations in the city and elsewhere in the region. Mayor Kooiker said, “I have said many times before and since this incident that improving race relations is an ongoing endeavor and I have appreciated the willingness and efforts of tribal officials and the support of many people, both Native and non-Native, to remain committed to that effort.  We cannot let the actions of one person derail those efforts, nor should we allow the incident to define the character, ideals and values of people in Rapid City and our region.”

Mayor Kooiker expressed hope for the future, “During my tenure as mayor, the City has produced a number of efforts to improve race relations in the community and moving forward, I remain committed to this effort.  Improving race relations is a constant goal, one that cannot be resolved in a day, week or month, but a commitment that must be ongoing and vigilant in its purpose.”

This incident should be of particular interest to all of us who work with children. In middle childhood and early adolescence, their developing brains are forming a framework for who they are becoming and how they will find their way in the world. These kids were attending school, participating in a positive way, and achieving academically. They should be welcomed with open arms and open minds. My research on this topic didn’t indicate whether the public address announcer recognized this group of achievers and they were cheered by the crowd so I’ll hope that happened too. It is most likely true that the abuse they experienced there was the result of only a few people. It’s up to the rest of us – each and every one of us-  to ensure that those few don’t have the loudest voices or the greatest impact. It’s as important now as it ever was.

Additional Information:

Rapid City Journal February 18, 2015:

Rapid City Journal July 24, 2015:





IMG_5556 (2)IMG_3251 (2)

Helping Them Find Their Way

A “mob” of Aboriginal kids sat in a group and played music while others played basketball.  They beamed with pride as they ascended the climbing wall that had been constructed for the special day. Painted faces with butterflies, Spiderman and other designs adorned the smiling faces of many of the nearly 100 young people there. It was family day at Woolaning Homeland Christian College, one of nine schools in the Northern Territory Christian Schools system. This was a day of celebration in the residential school. Families came to see exhibits of their children’s school work, interact with the staff and school leadership, and show the younger siblings of the students already enrolled what the next step for them might be like.

Sitting just outside Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia, 2 hours’ drive from Darwin, Woolaning operates on land generously leased from the Petherick family, traditional land owners in that area. The school was a vision of a family matriarch and began in 1992 in collaboration with the NT Christian Schools system. This is a big event of the school year in this program and takes a great deal of planning and effort on the part of the staff to make it a success. In addition to the food, accommodations, supervision and festivities, transportation is a significant undertaking. Because the program serves students from across a large expanse of the Northern Territory, staff drive small buses up to six hours to bring families to the event and return them home the following day. It is exhausting, satisfying work for thirty staff members who carry out their faith, in part, through the work they do with these precious young people throughout the year.

The Aboriginal people in Australia are among the oldest indigenous cultures in the world. While their culture and traditions remain intact in many respects, life for the aboriginal people in Australia can be very difficult. Like indigenous people in every part of the world, the presence of colonists from different places and cultures overtook their country and forced many changes on them. They have survived and adapted through the arrival of foreign hunters, the farmers, the miners, and many families continue to try to survive the “Stolen Generation” that began at the end of the nineteenth century.

Aboriginal children continue to be 8-10 times more likely to experience some sort of governmental intervention or out-of-home care than non-aboriginal children. Life expectancy for aboriginal people in Australia is more than 10 years less than for non-aboriginal people. The Australian government and the aboriginal people themselves are working to address many of the significant issues that remain as a result of colonization and the resulting traumas. Aboriginal people continue to struggle to find a healthy balance between traditional ways and the constantly evolving world around them.

Aboriginal children between the ages of twelve and eighteen are enrolled in Woolaning Homeland Christian College by their families. While there the children experience support for their cultural, spiritual, health, and academic and vocational needs.They are served by a very dedicated staff of house parents, educators and administrators with demonstrated compassion and commitment. The experience children have in this setting can build capacity to not only enhance their survival but also help prepare them to thrive.

Additional Information:
Woolaning Homeland Christian College and Northern Territory Christian Schools


The Stolen Generation


Decoding – The Key to Connecting

Decoding is a critical first step to respectfully connecting with a person who is experiencing negative emotions and expressing those emotions in sometimes harmful or self-harming behaviors.  Three critical steps to decoding someone’s behavior are:

  1. To observe the behavior,
  2. To ask what the person might be feeling, and
  3. To acknowledge their feeling.

A recent example of decoding I used was with a young man I’d not met before whom I was asked to interview.  I introduced myself and asked him if he would mind if I spoke with him.  He sat in the chair, crossed his arms and had a scowl on his face (not a happy camper).

  • My decoding went like this:
    1.  Observe: Tommy, I noticed you have your arms crossed and your jaws clenched,
    2.  Ask: Are you angry? He responded with a yes.
    (If he would have said no, I simply would have asked; What are you feeling?)
    3.  Acknowledge: I can see you’re angry. (An empathic response that provides connection)

I then asked him what caused him to be angry and he said was angry because he was supposed to be at another activity he was looking forward to. We then went on and had a wonderful exchange for about 45 minutes.
I firmly believe that due to this respectful interaction where I observed his behavior, asked about his feeling and acknowledged it, I’d made it through what could have been many layers of resistance.
The crucial part of any conversation is how it begins – Decoding is the key to looking beyond the surface behavior and making that critical connection with the person in distress.

*This decoding process: Observe, Ask, & Acknowledge is the first phase in Satori Alternatives to Managing Aggression designed by Larry Hampton of http://www.satorilearning.com/.

Self-defeating Patterns of Behavior

Have you ever noticed how ‘other people’ (not you of course) do things and say things that quite obviously makes things worse for themselves instead of better. They appear to have a genuine lack of awareness that these behaviors are counter-productive and self-defeating.

The short clip below involving a dog protecting his bone is a perfect representation of the blindness of self-defeating behavior and the self-inflicted pain it can cause. Like the dog protecting its bone, our children are protecting themselves in ways that without any understanding to others looking on appears to be counter-productive and self-harming.

In our work with youth we understand that behavior has meaning and purpose and is needs based. We view their sometimes outrageous behaviors as their best attempt to meet one of the basic needs for safety, belonging, achievement, power, purpose or adventure. With this understanding in mind, we incorporate therapeutic interventions so that the youth in our care gain insight into their self-defeating patterns of behavior and think about and incorporate healthy ways to express their emotions to get their needs met. Some of the interventions we utilize at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch include Life Space Crisis Intervention and The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics.

Crazy dog bites its own leg!.mp4

A Good Read – The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog

boybook-iconDr. Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Fellow of the Child Trauma Academy and Maia Szalavitz, an award-winning health and science journalist are the authors of this pivotal work about trauma and the developing brain. The book is collection of stories of some of many the children and families Dr. Perry has worked with during the span of his career as a child psychiatrist and neuroscientist.

Why we love this book:

1. Each chapter is a distinct case history and is written in an engaging narrative format.
2. The stories explore many crucial concepts related to neurodevelopment including the stress response system (freeze, fight, or flight), associations and attachment.
3. With each case study, Dr. Perry breaks down complex concepts into small, understandable pieces making this book a great learning and teaching tool.

Why You Should Read This Book:

Statistics clearly illustrate if you work with children you will likely encounter more than a few that have been exposed to trauma, violence, chaos and neglect. The Boy That Was Raised as a Dog illustrates how the different types of trauma effect emotions, behavior and a child’s ability to learn, and create and maintain relationships.

Throughout the text Dr. Perry offers clear explanations regarding how adults may help troubled children by developing an understanding of the children’s histories and through the creation of relationships with them.

This short read is a great place to begin building a knowledge base about the brain and an excellent starting point for guiding your work with children and families from hard places.


Seems like there is always something to learn when traveling…

Measuring Success by Statistics and Smiles:

The week of March 16th I attended the 7th annual conference of the European Federation of Conflict Management and Treatment in Education and Care (EFeCT) in Budapest, Hungary.  I’ll write more about that organization and conference in a subsequent entry.  Now I want to focus on the program visit experiences of the two pre-conference days in the Hungarian cities of Győr and Salgótarján.

Győr is a city in the western part of Hungary, sitting about halfway between Budapest and Vienna, Austria.  We visited a school there, Kossuth Lajos Elementary School, that served young people who could not function well in regular community schools.  Most of the students were from the Roma community in the city.  The school is poorly funded.   In 2010 our colleagues from Pressley Ridge Hungary became involved in a training and consulting capacity and, according to statistics in four key areas, since then student performance has improved.  The four areas measured are school attendance, academic performance, serious discipline meetings, and continuation in school.

In the period between 2008 and 2010, prior to the involvement of Pressley Ridge Hungary, the trends in school attendance, academic progress, and continuation in school were downward and the number of serious discipline meetings increased.  From 2010 to the present school year the trends have reversed.  Attendance in school has increased steadily, academic progress is now close to grade level, serious discipline meetings not only decreased but also substantially changed, and more students finish elementary school and enter high school.

The school attributes these positive changes to the involvement of Pressley Ridge Hungary staff and a consistent application of positive, strength-based approaches that emphasize Re-ED principles, group process, restorative approaches, and trusting relationships.  The students affirmed what the statistics indicate.  Their school is a safe place of learning and positive relationships.

Salgótarján is a city in the eastern part of Hungary, very near the border of Slovakia.  Not unlike what happened near my home, Pittsburgh, in the 1980’s Salgótarján has seen the loss of steel making, coal mining and glass making industries and a corresponding loss of twenty-five percent of its population.  Our group met with two of the city’s deputy mayors who told us about the challenges and their plans to breathe life back in to that old, once proud, community.

In this depressed city we visited a residential program for young people, Salgótarján Elementary School and Children’s Home.  Nearly fifty young people of elementary school age live in a co-ed program in a building that was constructed in 1925.  At some point in its history it was a casino still bears the engraved inscription of the miners’ greeting above the front door, Jó szerencsét! (Good Luck!).

The good luck for the young people living there is undoubtedly embodied in the caring staff who work with them day and night.  At the time of our visit there were forty-seven boys and girls living in the program with a total staff of nine people, including the administrator and two overnight staff.  Two staff were absent due to illness while we were there and calling for back-up support is not an option.

The program in this setting has also been enhanced with training and consultation from Pressley Ridge Hungary in much the same way as in the school program in Győr, several hours away.  We were invited to join in the daily planning meetings of the young children and the older children and our group divided among them.  With translation support, we listened as each student proudly stated their personal goal.  Goals about expressing themselves appropriately, improving cooperation, and helping others are very similar to those we hear from students in programs in the United States.

The contrast between a broken old building that has had no renovation in decades and the positive, hopeful spirit of young people, many of whom have lived in that five day per week program for years could not be more pronounced.  I have seen residential programs in many parts of the world and I have never seen a program do more with less material resources anywhere.  One resource they have in abundance is human spirit.

My experience in these two Hungarian cities, inspired by our colleagues from Pressley Ridge Hungary, brings to mind a quote by American writer William Bruce Cameron:

Not everything that can be counted counts.
Not everything that counts can be counted.


Two Faces?


We have found that the use of illusions are often helpful to illustrate various complex ideas about how the brain functions.

Look at the picture.  What happens?

This is a picture of half of a human face.  Your brain quickly reacts to this incomplete pattern by turning the face sideways – which, to it, makes more sense.  To continue looking at the half face photo would mean the brain is not allowed to do its work of completing the pattern.  Sometimes the brain is so anxious to make sense of the world around it, it will add or subtract information in order to satisfy this desire to predict thereby – better ensuring its continued existence. 

Because our brain’s primary directive is to keep us alive, many of its functions underscore this drive.  In order to stay alive, it is helpful to be able to anticipate what is going to happen next.  Our brains are constantly and continuously trying to predict what will happen, next words, next actions, in an attempt to be prepared in a response.  A extension of this is the need to complete patterns.