Mark Ossenheimer, principal of the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx, threw out a name to add to the list of teenagers in trouble.
Several teachers and a social worker seated around a table in the school’s cramped administrative offices nodded in agreement. They had watched the student, who had a housebound parent who was seriously ill, sink into heavy depression. Another child seemed to be moving from apartment to apartment, showing up at school only sporadically. And then there was the one grappling with gender-identity issues. Soon the list had a dozen names of students who could shatter a classroom’s composure or a school windowpane in a second.
Convening the meeting was Turnaround for Children, a nonprofit organization that the young-but-faltering school in an impoverished neighborhood near the Bronx Zoo had brought in this year to try to change things.
“This is the condition our organization was created to solve,” said Dr. Pamela Cantor, Turnaround’s founder and president. “A teacher who works in a community like this and thinks that these children can leave their issues at the door and come in and perform is dreaming.”
In focusing on students’ psychological and emotional well-being, in addition to academics, Turnaround occupies a middle ground between the educators and the politicians who believe schools should be more like community centers, and the no-excuses mantra of the education-reform movement.