While Virginia (Ginny) Stephan has taught in public and private schools, her current teaching assignment is working with 13-17 year-old boys as part of the Division of Youth Services (DYS) in Missouri. DYS is the state agency charged with the care and treatment of delinquent youth committed to its custody by Missouri juvenile courts. DYS programs are established to provide mandated services that include assessment, care and treatment, and education of all youth committed to its care. DYS operates treatment programs ranging from non-residential day treatment centers through secure residential treatment facilities and operates an accredited school program where Stephan teaches.
The boys who are part of her program have all been committed to the facility for anywhere between 4 and 6 months. The eclectic mix of students that Stephan teaches have functional reading levels that range from 2nd grade to college level. The students attend classes year-round at the facility, moving between curriculum standards like math, reading, science, and social studies into life skills such as study habits, finance, and career education. Students taking reading or study skills are quickly introduced to MindPlay Virtual Reading Coach (MVRC).
“The youth enter the facility and the program all dealing with different hesitations and levels of anxiety, which can affect the first test they take on MVRC. That first test may not show actual abilities because there is so much going on for our new students, but it is a start. From the assessment in MVRC, I build either an IEP or a general educational plan for each student. Our goal is to have them reading at grade level or, as a stretch goal, grade level plus one. We do a cognitive score test when our students arrive, so I have a good idea of what they should be able to accomplish.”
“We’ve seen the most success in MVRC with our lower ability students, as they are the ones who are assigned the most time to the program. Because of our setting, it is almost impossible for me to follow MindPlay’s guidelines of half an hour a day, five days a week. I certainly understand how that would be optimal, but I am delighted to say that we’ve seen lots of success while operating under a less than ideal scenario.”
“I’ve seen several students move from reading at a first grade level to a seventh grade level during their time here. I’ve also seen students go from a 9th to a 12th grade level. Our goal is to mainstream students back into their regular school or to have them ready to be successful with the High School Equivalency Test, and MindPlay is helping us make this happen for them.”
“The students place a lot of value in the program certificates and love the assessments, often asking me to force an assessment so they can track their progress. The reporting, and what it represents, is important to my students. When they are close to release, many will ask me for copies of their MVRC reports. They take these back to their regular schools and use the reports to make their case to be readmitted. They know the MVRC reports showcase their efforts, accomplishments, and their progress. I’ve had several students who’ve met their goals and request to continue on the program. Once they’ve started chasing a higher reading level, they want to continue and many work the program until they are at a 12th grade level.”
“When students first encounter MVRC, generally I find they are happy to have the opportunity to address their reading challenges. Many know they aren’t reading as well as they should and are glad to have a way to address this skill gap. Early on, when they are working through their lowest levels of instruction, they may get a little frustrated, but I explain that the program has lessons that will take them up through 12th grade. It helps them get a perspective on how the program can and will help them.”
“I really love my current teaching situation. My students are treated as students, thanks to the policies in DYS. We work very hard to give them the skills to go out make changes in their lives: when they are released they are confident in their abilities and in themselves. I think our program plants seeds. Some of these seeds might not come to fruition for years, but the seed and its potential, are there long after spending time in our program.”
“Unlike other state’s programs, our program is group oriented and treatment oriented with a constant focus that we are dealing with children. We do very well with the students we work with. Do all of them leave us and go off to make only goods choices? No. Sadly some do continue to make bad choices, but we do have success stories. I believe that what we do gives our students the opportunity to be all they may choose to be. Bad choices at age 13 shouldn’t condemn a child.”
“MVRC is an important tool for me and my students. I truly love it because of all the success we’ve seen. My students gain confidence in their education and in themselves; you can see it in their faces. I really love using the program with them.”