Maybe orphanages weren’t such a bad idea after all.

I’ve been invited to sit on the advisory board for Mound Street Academy. It’s a charter school that is dedicated to giving drop-outs a chance to go back to school and graduate. Students range from 16 to 22, and reading skills from grade 1 to 13.

The building feels more like an office cubicle farm- and the students work at their own pace through online modules, with support and supervision by the staff.

Teachers shared stories of what it takes to get these kids back in school. Most are from single-parent households- and some, from no-parent households. A girl, 17, was basically couch surfing to live. All the students know violence and the prison system- while you or I may open the paper to the sports page first, these kids go to the obituaries and the Miami Valley’s Most Wanted – to see who they know who’s dead or locked up. Many of the kids have mental health issues as well- and who can blame them? These are generational conditions that create a cycle that’s hard to break.

Somehow, the school is managing to graduate these kids, with an emphasis on career prep and introducing them to Sinclair Community College.

Listening to these stories made me wonder how we’ve come to this?

Before Ronald Reagan shut down the mental health system in this country- and we moved from institutional based care to private placement, through foster homes, we used to have orphanages. The Ohio Children’s Home in Xenia used to serve thousands of kids- but now is a Christian Sports Center.

A friend of mine, who is much older and wiser- grew up there. He went on to letter in sports at Miami University and then a long career with the post office. In fact, he used to deliver to my neighborhood. He, and his five siblings, were in and out of the orphanage based on his mother’s ability to care for the kids. He didn’t hold it against her when she couldn’t cope- it was just the way it worked.

He has good memories of that place- which was a safe environment for kids. There was a special bond between the kids as well- all having escaped bad home situations into a protected environment.

I wonder if the solution we should be looking for, isn’t more like an orphanage than a bigger juvenile jail, or more charter schools? Boarding schools may be a real way to break the cycle.

If you drive by the Glen at St. Joseph center in the Twin Towers neighborhood- which is funded in part by the Mathile Family Foundation, you may have a totally different view of what a residential educational facility can look like.

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