I recently had the opportunity to stop by and tour the Camelot school in Pensacola—and I was glad I did.
Camelot is an alternative school for students who have been removed from their regular classes, students who have failed to meet established behavior expectations. While I had heard about the great things happening at Camelot, I had not yet had the opportunity to drop in and visit until one day this past week.
Executive Director Drew Stem and several of his staff greeted me, and took time to show me around the classrooms and the facility; they also explained some of the successful techniques utilized at Camelot to maintain order, discipline, and learning.
One of the interesting things that Camelot does is to allow students to “earn” their way into positions of authority. The “Tiger-Shark” is a designation that carries with it certain privileges and a different uniform (yes, all students at Camelot wear uniforms), and so therefore most of the students who come to Camelot want to achieve this status.
Tiger-Sharks are leaders in the school, they set the examples for other students by following house rules such as the school’s prohibition on talking between classes as students “transition” from one class to another. These students also take on responsibilities like showing guests around the campus. My two “Tiger-Shark” escorts were Tevin and Brittany. They were very polite and did a very good
job of pointing out all of the different items in the various classrooms they showed me.
At Camelot, all students meet together each morning before the start of classes. Mr. Stem pointed out that this allows him to assess his students as they arrive from the bus before class starts-this allows him to spot any potential trouble that may have started on the bus with the potential to carry over into the classroom.
But before the students meet, the teachers and staff meet. Every morning. “The staff meets daily in the morning and we meet briefly each afternoon just to wrap up the day” Stem told me. “This keeps us all accountable and allows us to communicate the day’s events as a group so everyone knows what’s going on” he continued.
Camelot has 13 teachers, 6 behavior technicians, 1 executive director 1 assistant director, and 1 secretary. The school serves 181 students currently, but has the capacity to serve as many as 250 if necessary.
When I asked Stem how he manages to keep such good control of the learning environment, he stressed several key strategies.
1. All staff is held accountable—any staff member can question another staff member who is not following procedures correctly. “Even I get challenged, and I accept this and expect my staff to as well” Stem told me.
2. Behavior expectations are rigidly consistent throughout the campus, and in every classroom. Consistency is critical so that students know there are no “lenient” teachers that will not expect adherence to the rules
3. “We treat them with respect, like they are human beings—we take them on field trips, to Atlanta, the Gulfarium, and other places. If they are well behaved we’ll let them watch a movie or we’ll have a barbeque.” Stem said. “We mix it up, there are the behavior expectations and there are the wins the kids get if they meet the expectations” he continued.
For now it appears as if the school as a whole is meeting all of the expectations we have placed on them, they appear to be doing a very good job.