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.