Research Supporting the Family Plan Concept
The research basis for Mr. Atencio's vision of the Family Plan derived from the 1989 report Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century, by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development (Task Force on the Education of Young Adolescents). According to this report, adolescents confront a number of challenges, including the following: biological and psychological changes; peer pressure relative to alcohol, drugs, and sexual behavior; and environmental changes such as the transition from elementary to secondary school. Middle-school educators should, therefore, assist adolescents in building self-esteem, a sense of belonging, trusting relationships with adults, a sense of usefulness, and enhanced intellectual development.
According to the report, environmental change has a major impact on adolescents. Many students must attend junior high schools that are several miles away from their elementary schools and from their homes. They are no longer taught in one classroom where curriculum is linked; and they no longer study with the same peers during the school day. Instead, middle school students move from class to class hourly, experiencing a disconnected curriculum and seeing new classmates. Often these middle schools are much larger and more impersonal than the elementary schools they attended.
To ameliorate the effects of these biological, physiological, social, and environmental changes, the Carnegie Report (1989) recommends using three strategies. The first strategy restructures the traditional junior high into a middle school that organizes students into smaller learning communities called families. These families, or small learning communities, should provide environments where stable, close, mutually respectful relationships with adults and peers are created and where students' intellectual development and personal growth flourish. The fundamental philosophy behind this approach is that students and teachers are grouped as teams to ensure that each and every student connects with a significant adult and develops a sense of respect and caring for his peers, as he would in his own family.
The remaining two strategies include the following: eliminate tracking by achievement level through the use of heterogeneous grouping; and use cooperative learning as the primary instructional method. Cooperative learning will provide students with leadership opportunities, models of appropriate learning behavior, and opportunities to teach and learn from their peers.