How To Get Back 66 Million Hours of Instruction Time

I know I said I would share with you in this week’s blog the most effective prevention strategies you can use to work on the attitudes your middle school students have about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. However, I’m not. But, I promise I will – next week.


I want you to think about something else that is impacting approximately 2.8 million students or about 6 percent of our U.S. public school student population. It’s something that is impacting students in every school and community – even yours.

What is it?

Out-of-school suspensions.

Did you know that in the 2015-2016 school year alone, students lost more than 11 million school days to out-of-school suspensions?

You read that correctly. Broken down further, that amounts to:

  • 66 million hours of instruction time lost in one school year
  • 63,000+ school years’ worth of learning

Out-of-school suspensions leave kids at home unsupervised and able to cause more problems. They also do nothing to teach appropriate alternative behavior nor address underlying issues that may be causing the bad behavior.

Students suspended from school lose important instructional time, are less likely to graduate on time, are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school and become involved in the juvenile justice system.

No matter if you work with students in school or out of school, the long-term impact out-of-school suspensions can have on your kids’ futures, their families and your community is concerning.

Finding a more successful solution to dealing with problem student behavior than out-of-school suspension is something I have found many schools struggle with. Administrators, classroom teachers and even parents know another alternative is important and needed.

But, what?

That’s the big question. And for years, when I was asked for my opinion, I didn’t know what the answer was either.


I met Bill Michener of The Lighthouse in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Lighthouse

In all of my 34 years of working with schools and community-based youth organizations around the country, I have NEVER heard about an alternative suspension program like the one at The Lighthouse.

This program has all the components needed to make it one of the most successful alternatives to suspension:

A collaborative relationship between the school district and a well-established and respected community-based youth program

  • The cooperation of school administrators and classroom teachers district-wide
  • Parent/Guardian involvement
  • Adequate and shared funding
  • Skilled and dedicated staff
  • Outcome evaluation measures

The alternative suspension program at The Lighthouse is so unique and the results it has seen in just three years has caught the attention of other school districts, community-based youth organizations and me!

There is no way I could do justice describing the program in a blog to you. The best and only way to capture what this innovative, proven alternative suspension program is doing is to have Bill Michener, the Executive Director of The Lighthouse, tell you himself.

I recently sat down with Bill to have a recorded conversation about how the idea of this alternative suspension program came to be, how the partnership between The Lighthouse and the Lincoln Public School district was formed, what the program challenges and successes have been, how the program has grown to what it is today and how you can replicate the program in your school or community.

After the conversation I was convinced even more that this program is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen or heard of and I’m pretty sure it will be for you, too!

And, that is why I’m sharing my conversation with Bill with you this week!

If you’re concerned about the number of single and/or repeat out-of-school suspensions in your school and the number of students falling behind academically or dropping out because of it, you definitely want to hear how The Lighthouse – a community-based youth program – was able to turn those same concerns into solutions and give students the opportunity to achieve success in their future!

So, grab a cup of coffee, sit back and relax and listen to my conversation with Bill and hear how you can reduce out-of-school suspensions with your students!​

Teens and Volunteerism: “Try It! They’ll Like It!”

I remember a summer day when I told my 8-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son that I was taking them to lunch. They were excited and quickly requested their favorite restaurant.

We got into the van and drove off. It didn’t take them long to notice I wasn’t going in the direction they expected me to go. Instead I parked in front of a local soup kitchen with people lined up outside waiting for lunch.

Confused, they asked, “Where are we? I thought we were going to lunch.” I reassured them they would get lunch but after they served lunch to others who couldn’t afford it. They cautiously got out of the van and walked by the line of people waiting and went in.

During the next hour we served lunch to over 150 people and when we were done we joined them to eat the leftovers. When we got back in the van to head home they couldn’t quit talking about what they had just done.

Before taking my children to the soup kitchen I worried about whether they were too young to do what they did, but when it was over I was convinced they weren’t. In fact, research says the earlier kids begin volunteering, the better. Kids who learn early to be caring, compassionate and helpful perform better in school and are more likely to graduate at the top of their class. Teens who volunteer look more attractive on college and scholarship applications. Teens who volunteer just two hours a week are also 50% less likely to use alcohol and cigarettes, become pregnant or engage in other risky behaviors.

Many youth might start volunteering because “they have to” for a school or youth group project. The amazing thing is, once they try it, they love it! Research shows that one positive volunteer experience is more likely to lead to more. Teens report they learn to respect others, to be helpful and kind, to understand people who are different from them, develop leadership skills, become more patient and better understand good citizenship. They feel empowered and valued.

Summer is a great time to connect kids with volunteer opportunities. It’s one of the most important things you can do for them. Volunteer opportunities aren’t hard to find for any age. Consider places of worship, hospitals, libraries, children’s museums, community centers, parks, zoon or local charities. Make volunteering a year-round commitment for students as they would to a sports team, dance, music group or club.

Today, my children are 29 and 26 years of age and since that summer day they have logged in over a thousand hours of volunteer time between both of them. I didn’t know the experience that day would have the long-term impact it did. At the same time, it doesn’t surprise me. My kids aren’t unique. Today’s teenagers volunteer 2.4 billion hours annually. More than one in four teens nationwide does some type of volunteer work. I guess research is right when it says, “Once they try it, they’ll love it!” The question is, “Have your students tried it?”