For students ‘disenchanted’ with traditional education, Logos School is a therapeutic alternative | St. Louis Public Radio

For students ‘disenchanted’ with traditional education, Logos School is a therapeutic alternative

Aug 20, 2015

Kathy Boyd-Fenger (left) and Collin Miller (right) joined "St. Louis on the Air" to talk about Logos School's 45 years of serving at-risk students.
Credit Áine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio

For young people with mental health conditions or behavioral disorders, school can be frustrating, and even counter-productive; many such students are considered ‘at risk’ of failing out of the education system. It’s a nationwide problem: the National Alliance on Mental Illness indicated that approximately 50 percent of high-school-age students with a mental illness drop out of high school, and that mental illness plagues 70 percent of youth in juvenile justice systems.

Logos School opened 45 years ago in a warehouse in the Central West End with a class of four students and a mission to pick up where traditional schools may fail. It has since served over 1,000 at-risk students in the St. Louis area.

Logos School, which extends through grades 6-12, is uniquely organized. Education is paired with therapy, deemed equally as important, and students are given individualized care in their learning process and counseling.

Collin Miller oversees the clinical program at Logos; she told “St. Louis on the Air” that each student is assigned a therapist, matched to them by their needs, when they enter the school.

Miller catalogued the reasons a student might apply to Logos School. “All of their experiences at the traditional school, for some reason or another, did not work out. Some of them may have been bullied; others, a learning disability wasn’t treated as well as it could’ve been—and falling through the cracks—mental health issues, for sure.”

Overall, said head of school Kathy Boyd-Fenger, Logos is for students who have become “disenchanted” with traditional education. And as a former student, she can speak to that disenchantment quite personally.

“I was that typical, quiet, lost, fell-through-the-cracks kind of kid,” Boyd-Fenger said. “So I had depression, for sure, but I did not know I had that at the time. I was just very disadvantaged, felt very lost in my big public high school in the county, and I just shut down.”

At Logos, she said, she was able to “just flourish,” regaining a love for learning she’d lost somewhere between a fraught family life and precarious mental health. After achieving her Ph.D., she directed academic and therapeutic programs at Logos and eventually became head of school.

Logos School advertises high rates of success commensurate with Boyd-Fenger’s story: 98 percent of Logos students graduate, and 92 percent go on to post-secondary education.

Some of that success must be attributed to the school’s particular attention to individual needs. Logos has a student-teacher ratio of 6:1, Boyd-Fenger said; if therapists are also included, the staff-student ratio is 3:1.

Teachers work with therapists to develop individualized lesson plans, so that one lesson may be taught six or seven different ways, depending on the students’ learning styles. Teachers are certified either in special education or in a particular content area, and at times in both; they work tirelessly, Boyd-Fenger said, to ensure students’ comfort and streamline their learning.

That kind of individualized attention comes with a price, Boyd-Fenger said. “We are a private school, and tuition is very, very expensive—because we’re 11 months and because of the therapy we provide, tuition is $27,000 a year.” But, she emphasized, Logos has a strong financial aid program, and over $1 million is raised every year by community partners to provide for families in need.

Not all students graduate directly from Logos. A Logos students’ average stay is only two years, as many decide to “mainstream” and return to their home school district after learning the skills needed to facilitate their own education.

“The goals of each student [are] a little bit different based on their experience,” Miller said. Some students need Logos’ support and therapy for the rest of high school; others can leave fairly quickly, having only needed to be pointed in the right direction. Either way, Miller said, the decision to ‘mainstream’ is a long conversation between parents, students, and the administration, and Logos makes sure to start it early.

“We have a very finely-honed process, because we want not only the students to learn those skills…but to solidify those skills, so that when they move on, they can be successful for the long haul,” Boyd-Fenger said.

“It’s not just up to the adults involved,” said Miller. “We really try to get [students] involved in the decision-making. It’s for them.”

Parents are encouraged to become involved in their student’s learning process even before the mainstreaming conversation becomes necessary. Parents meet with therapists to learn the skills necessary to handle their student’s academic difficulties and foster better relationships at home.

“It’s definitely a partnership,” Miller said—but acknowledged that parents are sometimes unavailable, leaving Logos School to work with the students on its own.

Boyd-Fenger emphasized that parental involvement is essential because often, the difficulties their students undergo cause pain at home. “There [are] many favorite parts of my job, but one of the things that I love the most is when parents tell me that ‘you didn’t just help our child at Logos, or help them succeed or find that hope again’—you helped heal the whole family.’”

Editor’s note: Logos School’s underwriting of programming on St. Louis Public Radio was not affiliated with its selection as a topic on “St. Louis on the Air.”

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.