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Education Makeover

Aired June 4, 2011 - 14:30   ET



DR. STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: What goes on in a child's home is critical.




MALEK BUFORD: I'm going to ask you again, how do you know she's not going to give you a test today.

JACOB BUFORD: No, I don't.

WINTERS-GETER: Guess who doesn't get any downtime?

MELEK BUFORD: How can a vegan flunk health?

PERRY: Right now I want you to meet three teenage brothers. They're involved in a lot of activities. But one of them is struggling.

JACOB BUFORD: I'm looking at three Fs, a C-minus.

PERRY: Is he in danger of failing?

MELEK BUFORD: It's up in the air.

PERRY: They're divorced parents.

WINTERS-GETER: If you had continued to be there --

MELEK BUFORD: When you keep saying that, it's like you're punishing me.

PERRY: I'm Dr. Steve Perry, high school principal and the founder of one of the most successful middle and high schools. But what I love is working with families and more specifically working with families to help them improve the way they educate their children. It's not what you do. It's how I don't do it.

Today we're visiting one of those families to make a house call. WINTERS-GETER: My name is Latonya Winter-Geter. I have three sons. Dexter is 16 and he's in the tenth grade. Jacob is 14 and he's in ninth grade. And Joshua is 13 and in seventh grade. I share custody with my sons with my ex-husband.

MELEK BUFORD: Without fail I usually get a call from mom --

WINTERS-GETER: He's remarried and has four additional children, two dogs and a whole lot of stuff going on.

MELEK BUFORD: When she's running late, with have these -- depending on how late she is, we have these rendezvous points. There's a late scenario and there's a late scenario b. I go ahead and drop the three I have from my second marriage, then I race to get the oldest two at either a or b.

WINTERS-GETER: I'm remarried. I have my husband and I also have two additional children that come along with our union that we made. We have a very diverse family, and there is no one day in our lives that's ever the same.

PERRY: The fact that their heads are not exploding is an amazing statement.

WINTERS-GETER: Guys, come on. It is almost 10:00 at night and we are eating dinner.

I'll be honest. I'm struggling with how to put in a better structure to benefit them.

MELEK BUFORD: I'm a laid back person and, like I said, she's the worrier. I let her worry until she's not worried anymore. All of them are smart kids. They just need, I would just say to organize better.

WINTERS-GETER: This is cool. You had that on last night. I'm not sure when you wore that. It's a mess. There's stuff in every corner.

MELEK BUFORD: Dexter is the oldest. He lives, eats and breathes soccer.

WINTERS-GETER: His most prized possession, his soccer shoes.

MELEK BUFORD: He works hard. His work ethic is tied into the whole thing with his school, his education.

WINTERS-GETER: I know he does well because he's an athlete.

MELEK BUFORD: Josh is the reporter because he's in everything and in everybody's business, but he makes very good grades.

PERRY: Two children doing relatively well in school, Dexter the oldest and Joshua, the youngest. Then there's the middle child, Jacob. JACOB BUFORD: When my parents ask me do I have homework or something, I will say no so they don't keep asking me about it. Then I'll tell them I'll do it later. Then I keep putting it off.

MELEK BUFORD: Jacob has this thing where now basketball has become his life. And so today he skipped class. And because I know him, and I don't know if it's the force driving me or whatever, but I walked into the school and my Jedi powers located him. So I went to the gym and sure enough, there he was with that look on his face like, you know, I'm caught.

Don't act like you a lamb and everything is woe is me and all that. You could have made it a simple day. Isn't that a class that you're failing?


MELEK BUFORD: How do you know she didn't give a test today? I'll ask you again. How do you know she didn't give you a test today?


MELEK BUFORD: See. That's the kind of stuff that makes me want to knock you out. I'm telling you, you're practicing to be perfect at being foolish.

PERRY: He's a bright kid, but he's skipping class, I don't even know why. I always thought it was a dumb thing to do, just to walk the halls to go where.

MELEK BUFORD: This is the evidence of greatness.

WINTERS-GETER: Did you get this in the gym playing basketball?

MELEK BUFORD: Yes, they gave that to him in the gym. That's where they give him his work now.

WINTERS-GETER: He has been my most challenging. He's just always been one that wants to do his own thing. Every year around the same time for a week or more he's doing something blatantly disrespectful or going against the school rule, and every time it's the same consequence. I've had other friends of mine talk to him. I buy him books, everything. Punishing him.

PERRY: Mom is very introspective. She's a hard worker. I think that it hurts her to think that something that she may or may not have done hurt these kids. I suffered through the same thing. I'm a principal, but I'm still a dad. All of us struggle to be good parents.

WINTERS-GETER: We clearly need to try something else because what we're doing isn't working.

PERRY: Jacob is a classic boy in that he's disorganized, he's flighty, and just doesn't seem to be impacted by anything. It seems like you could set Jacob on fire and he'd say, OK, I'm on fire. What happened to get you in this hole?

JACOB BUFORD: Not considering the consequences of any of my actions.

PERRY: Specifically. That's a good answer that you give a grown person. But really, what happened, though? What were you doing?

JACOB BUFORD: Not going to class.

PERRY: OK. That's some of it. How do you think you're going to turn this thing around for real?

JACOB BUFORD: I think the main thing is procrastinating, putting things off to doing them later and then doing them at the last minute, not doing them right. When I don't do homework, I get zeros. Every time I do it, I don't fail it. I get 100 or something.

WINTERS-GETER: And that bothers me a lot. I think he's my motivation for doing this more than anything. He is so kindhearted and such a sweet kid, but I don't understand why he doesn't get it that he needs to make proper decisions. And so that bothers me. It pains me. It keeps me awake at night.

PERRY: Jacob is a smart kid. Jacob is making bad decisions. Jacob hasn't found the reason yet to make the best decisions. And he is playing on the parts of his mother and father's relationship that both of them struggle with.

One of the challenges with divorced parenting would seem to me to be that some kids are not responding to one parent or the other. Do you see that to be the case here?

MELEK BUFORD: It wasn't just the divorce of two individuals. It's a divorce of two ideologies.

WINTERS-GETER: Divorce is what it is, is never anything that either one of us saw coming in our future.

PERRY: In order for me to help them as a principal, I need to be able to help the adults remember that no matter what happened between them, they still love their kids.

Still ahead, what I'm going to do, I'm going to get mom in a room, dad in a room, put them together.

MELEK BUFORD: You keep saying that, it's like you're punishing me today about it.

PERRY: And we're going to have a tough conversation about what they need to do to save their family, and more specifically, Jacob.


WINTERS-GETER: My laptop is in my room. Go get it and set it up and do your homework. JACOB BUFORD: It's usually clean but it's been a hectic night.

WINTERS-GETER: It's almost 10:00 at night and we're eating dinner.

PERRY: The reason we do these education makeovers is because this is an opportunity for me as a principal and families to have the kind of conversation we both need to have. When I finally do get parents in the room, as I did with mom and dad who are divorced or who are separated, there's so much angst built up, so many hurt feelings built up that words are filtered through the distrust.

MELEK BUFORD: I just sat down and talked to Jacob, and Jacob did not tell me he had these grades. If his assessment his grades are far better than these.

JACOB BUFORD: I think I have a 70 in that class.

MELEK BUFORD: One of two things happened. His memory is not where it needs to be or there was no proof.

JACOB BUFORD: But I'm looking at three Fs, a C-minus.

PERRY: Is he in danger of failing ninth grade, of staying back?

MELEK BUFORD: It's up in the air. I think he'll pull it through.

PERRY: You have a child who you say ex-husband is an enabler, that the reason why he's not doing well is because he's been -- you and he have pulled him out of the fire a few times.

MELEK BUFORD: It's not about enabling. Anybody that sees me around him, I'm from the school I will bust you in your chest when you make a stupid decision.

WINTERS-GETER: I personally feel like some counseling could maybe open up something to where we can understand why he repeatedly does this same thing.

PERRY: You're saying no.

MELEK BUFORD: I'm saying the counseling should be a step later on --

PERRY: The biggest issue I think for mom and dad here, the divorce happened and the feelings got hurt and there's just been some tumbling.

WINTERS-GETER: Because for a number of years and part of the reason why we're not together is you weren't there.

MELEK BUFORD: When you keep saying that, it's like you're punishing me today about it.

WINTERS-GETER: I'm not punishing you.

MELEK BUFORD: You keep bringing that up. I think that's the source of Jacob's problem is that he's torn in that, and because I watched him. He's like, this is affecting me and I can't hide it and all that stuff. I'm saying relax, be what you need to be, the structure and all that. I got this part. I'm telling you, I give you an A. But where they got to go now, it's time for big papa to step in and guide them.

WINTERS-GETER: I'm not going to agree with him that now my children need to be with him full time as a parent --

PERRY: Is that what you hear him saying?

WINTERS-GETER: It's definitely what I hear him saying.

PERRY: Is that what you're saying?

MELEK BUFORD: I'm not saying that.

PERRY: Because this seems to be a thorny issue. What I think mom is saying is that she's had to get to a point where she can trust that she can feel comfortable relinquishing some control. What I hear dad saying is I, dad, want to play bigger role in accepting my responsibility at this point in their development. Is that fair?

MELEK BUFORD: You channeled me perfectly.

PERRY: Is that fair with what you're saying as well?

WINTERS-GETER: For the most part.

PERRY: My objective is to get them to see what they have in common, stop them from going into the past, because that's not going to take us anywhere, and move forward on getting these kids to perform well in school. That's really all I care about. My interest in adults is how can working with them improve the lives of children.

PERRY: It's time for us to have a family meeting. I'm going to pull this thing up. This is our board. So what I want to do, I want to talk specifically about what we can do to move some things along.

WINTERS-GETER: Put him on a schedule.

PERRY: Jacob needs a schedule. We understand you're a free spirit, son, but you're going to lose some freedom. This is a big one for families such as yours. We have time management and organization. So this is really where the challenge is for you guys. When we get home, what's happening? What are you doing?

DEXTER BUFORD, STUDENT, TENTH GRADE: I'm trying to do my homework in school. When I get home, sleep.

JOSHUA BUFORD, STUDENT, SEVENTH GRADE: Usually I do my homework first and after that I watch TV and do whatever.

PERRY: What do we do, rebel without a cause?

PERRY: After I eat -- depending on the my mom is here. If she's here, she'll tell me to take a shower. If she's not here, I will take a shower later.

WINTERS-GETER: Why does your mommy have to tell you to take a shower for?

I realize they need downtime. You won't just transition to just doing homework. Your downtime doesn't last for four hours. Guess who doesn't get any downtime? I feel like we shouldn't have to come in and tell two teenagers what they should do.

PERRY: I understand what your thought behind it is. I got to give them a break when they get home, let them decompress, but then all that turns into is decompression. Then it's hard to get them back. Let's shift that. As soon as we come home, we do homework.

WINTERS-GETER: So eat, snack and do homework simultaneously?


The next is communication. Can you tell when your parents are not in agreement?




PERRY: Does it have any impact on you when they're not communicating well?

JACOB BUFORD: It's usually about us, so I guess yes, sometimes.

PERRY: What do you mean?

JACOB BUFORD: Maybe I'd be late to school if they didn't communicate well the night before.

PERRY: So if they had communicated with one another and had worked out the transportation issues, the clothing issues, then you three would have been able to go to school and participate, or if they had whatever agreements they needed to have?


PERRY: Consistency is essential to parenting because children respond to inconsistency as well as consistency, meaning that children don't have any allegiance. The only ones they care about are themselves and getting what they want. So you have to be consistent. Otherwise the kids are going to spend their time playing you two against one another, and especially when there's a divorce or separation.

This I guess is for the parents. What can we do to cut down on some of the communication breakdowns? Challenge is power.

MELEK BUFORD: The hierarchy of it is irrelevant to me. It's just let's work at it from a team standpoint.

WINTERS-GETER: I agree it is a power struggle and the fallout of it is how it affects our children.

PERRY: It seems like there's an interest on both sides to have some level of mediation. Let's put mediation up here. The reason to put it up here is to suggest to you where you two agree to some mediation, whether a counselor or someone of that type to sit down with somebody and still work on your relationship.

WINTERS-GETER: Notice he's not agreeing.

PERRY: That's fine.

MELEK BUFORD: Did I just disagree?

PERRY: OK. Let me see if I can mediate the mediation preparation.

MELEK BUFORD: Translate.

PERRY: I'll do what I can to translate. What he's saying is in order for him to feel comfortable having this conversation, he has to trust the person. You guys have to get a point and I think you both want to where you understand each other's values at this stage in your life and what you expect for your children and specifically how do you get to agreement when it comes to them doing something.

Still ahead, I'm coming back. We're going to take a look and see if mom and dad are communicating better.

Did we go to counseling?

And we're going to see if Jacob passes to the tenth grade.

What do grades look like now?


PERRY: -- yellow post-its on the wall, each with the children's goals.

WINTERS-GETER: I think it is important for them to set small goals and then to set larger goals. I have everybody to do theirs in front of everyone so we understand we can support each other on what our goals are.

PERRY: Dexter, yours is over there. What are some of the highlights.

DEXTER BUFORD: One of the major highlights is facing the finals in my major classes. Another one is working harder in soccer practice. PERRY: What did it feel like to be part of the family when everybody was putting together these goals?

DEXTER BUFORD: Pretty fun, everybody joking and laughing.

PERRY: At first blush kind of corny, but they did it.

WINTERS-GETER: We did it together. It's important to spend quality time with our children doing something like that. It didn't take us, maybe ten or 15 minutes. It means a lot.

PERRY: Josh?

JOSHUA BUFORD: One of the high goals was to do well on my Chinese exam, which was on Friday. Also I think I did well on my fitness test in PE.

PERRY: Jacob, what do the grades look like now -- math, passing?


PERRY: Literature, passing?


PERRY: Health, passing?


PERRY: Welcome back. What changed?

JACOB BUFORD: I went to teachers and got makeup work, stuff I didn't do.

PERRY: That's got to feel good, right?


PERRY: Are you going to be a tenth grader?

JACOB BUFORD: Yes, sir. I already got my schedule for next year.

WINTERS-GETER: He's resolved within his own self to do better.

MELEK BUFORD: I think he saw Latonya and I working and staying on him.

WINTERS-GETER: Then we got the new puppy. That's been a source of therapy for me for him. He gets up at 5:30 a.m.

PERRY: I wanted mom and dad to get back together. We had the first family meeting, a lot of tension -- a lot of tension.

WINTERS-GETER: For whatever reason --

MELEK BUFORD: It's like you're punishing me today about it.

PERRY: This time was different though.

Did you go to counseling?

MELEK BUFORD: No. I dropped the ball on it. I don't want to give any interim excuses, but no, I didn't do that.

WINTERS-GETER: But we will. I think we'll get to the place where we will.

PERRY: That's a lot more than you just didn't go.

MELEK BUFORD: I'm not an excuse person.

PERRY: I appreciate that.

Then mom drops a bombshell on us.

WINTERS-GETER: I tell you something I've been thinking about him, even though I haven't said this to him, is that initially we were like why don't we do one week on, one week off. No, I want to put them in bed every night. I've come to the conclusion that I think that will be best to do it that way. That way it's not a lot of back and forth and wear and tear on this.

MELEK BUFORD: Are we recording this?

PERRY: It's fully recorded.

That's got to feel huge, dad.

MELEK BUFORD: That's what I was trying to tell you, man.

PERRY: Got to feel huge.

So after mom and dad sit down with the boys. They were a completely different family. Josh was playing with a ball. One of the first questions that comes out, and I asked them about, do you see a difference? Jacob, of all people, Jacob, the first one to say thing.

JACOB BUFORD: Actually we were just talking about that the other day.

PERRY: OK, Jacob, tell us what you and Joshua, your 13-year-old brother, were discussing.

JACOB BUFORD: He brought it up that they seemed to be communicating a lot better and that they seem to actually be getting along.

PERRY: So what do you notice about them?

DEXTER BUFORD: In the morning time we have to switch things up. Things go smoother. JACOB BUFORD: I don't get yelled at in the car anymore.

PERRY: You don't get yelled at in the car?

MELEK BUFORD: Who yells at you?

JACOB BUFORD: I plead the fifth.


PERRY: Both mom and dad sat silently. I think they were proud of themselves that they could get past their differences as a divorced couple and now begin to live as parents. They're on the right track because the parents are listening to one another. The kids are watching the parents work together. And everybody seems to be on the same page, that they really want to be successful.

WINTERS-GETER: Thank you for acknowledging that.

PERRY: This is the modern family. It's blended. It's married. It's divorced. It's single. And there are many people out there who are simply trying to figure out the best way to help their children prepare academically.

But you can't prepare a child academically without considering the whole child -- the social child, the emotional child, the circumstances of the child's upbringing. We sure could use your help parents. Send us a child who you have trained to listen, who you have shown that you love, and who you haven't spoken to in some really negative ways, who you have found a way to communicate with in a very loving and productive way. When you send us that kid, there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to send that child to the moon.