THE BETHESDA RELATIONAL HEALING MODEL AND STUDENT PEER GOVERNANCE PROGRAM: A MIXED-METHOD STUDY OF THEIR EFFECTS ON BEHAVIOR, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SCHOOL CLIMATE IN A CHRISTIAN SCHOOL. by Kathleen Watts, PhD
Dr. Kathleen Watts conducted research to assess the impact of the BETHESDA RELATIONAL HEALING MODEL and THE BETHESDA PEER GOVERNANCE MODEL at Trinity Christian School in Dallas, Texas over three consecutive years - from 2005 through 2008.
Dr. Watts' research study concluded that the Bethesda Relational Healing Model and Peer Governance Program "effectively improved student/ student, student/staff, and child/parent relationships and improved student behavior and the overall school behavioral climate."
OTHER FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS:
Qualitative findings showed participants felt that the Bethesda Model trained and equipped them to communicate effectively, diminish conflict at home and school, lower stress in relationships, decrease feelings of anger and frustration, and create a desire within the students to be a positive influence with friends and classmates. The collaboration of professionals was found to be effective in overseeing student accountability and successful progress in their classroom behavior, participation, and academic accomplishments.
Quantitatively, the data showed a 45% reduction in average detentions per student for the 21/2 years following the introduction of the Bethesda program as compared to the average for the year of introduction (2004-2005) and the year prior (2003-2004).
The Model supports literature findings that show the effectiveness of intensive, school-based intervention for youth in crisis through the assistance of multilevel, trained school staff and student peer leadership.
THE TESTIMONIALS FROM TEACHES, PARENTS AND STUDENTS ARE ASTOUNDING:
Student, staff, and parent participants concluded that after experiencing the Bethesda Relational Healing Model and working out the steps toward emotional healing, the students no longer demonstrated negative behavior and attitudes but rather positive behavior with their friends and classmates. Students seemed more willing to step away from friends who were having a negative influence on their life. This was best demonstrated by student participant Linda when she shared that she was able to make better choices with her friends and to not be fearful of rejection. Restoration from ongoing conflict with her mother released Linda to love others more freely but also more discriminately.
Students began demonstrating for staff and parents more positive attitudes both at home and in the classroom, and emotions such as anger and frustration declined. All of the student participants shared openly during interviews of the powerful release they felt when they "let go" of the painful memories and emotions of past offenses, and that release became evident in their restored relationships between them and their classmates.
A common response from the student participants, confirmed by parents and staff, was that they now wanted to be a positive influence on their friends. In his interview, John freely shared that after working with his school Bethesda advisor for several months, he was finally feeling good about himself, and he no longer came to school expecting the other students to aggravate him. Before his experience with the Model, John would walk through the school doors angry every morning, ready to fight with his classmates. He demonstrated repeated outbursts of anger during his classes, which was one of the main reasons for being placed on a Student Discipline Covenant Agreement by his principal. John shared that better relationships with friends was one of the main differences he saw in his life. Staff reported the improvements they saw, which were evidenced by the increase in class participation and behavior on his student Weekly Assessment Forms.
Student, staff, and parent participants agreed that one of the greatest experiences emerging from the implementation of the Bethesda Relational Healing Model at the school was the strong relationship built between the student participants and their school Bethesda advisors. Students reported that they learned to better trust and respect their advisors. Several students mentioned that it helped to have someone take time to listen to them and acknowledge their emotional struggles. They overwhelmingly agreed that the high accountability set by being part of the Student Discipline Covenant Agreement Program and under the supervision of a school Bethesda advisor was one of their greatest experiences and the main reason for their success during the 2007-2008 school year.
A specific example of the power of the relationship between the trained school Bethesda advisors and students was Amber's testimony with anger and authority issues. Amber has a very authoritative father and two older brothers who are both extremely talented and popular. Her parents are church leaders, and she often felt like the outsider in the family. Amber is a gifted athlete and a strong competitor; however, she was still reminded by her father after every game of what she should or should not have done while she played. She shared during her interview that during the previous school year, she would come to school everyday full of anger towards her father and feeling inside that "no one was going to tell her what to do." She experienced conflict daily with her teachers, had an extremely bad attitude, and was frequently in the school office. She was placed on a Student Discipline Covenant Agreement for the 2007-2008 school year, and over a period of 6 months, she was able to get to the real cause of her anger with her school advisor by walking through the four steps of the Model. She was then free to forgive and be restored to a right relationship with her father. Not only did she have a strong athletic year, but her father and mother worked with her advisor to bring complete healing and restoration in their relationship with their daughter.
Students stated that they felt the staff was now more willing to show real care and concern for them since the staff had been trained in the Bethesda Relational Healing Model. The students believed that their teachers wanted them to be successful behaviorally and achieve higher grades.
One of the greatest changes in students observed by school Bethesda advisors after experiencing the Bethesda Relational Healing Model was when the participant "confronts his painful past and the offender(s) who contributed to it" (Herbst, 2003, p. 31). Letters of confrontation and disclosure were written from students to parents and were designed to bring restoration and healing. Most of the wounding was a result of unintentional pain from divorce by parents, and part of the healing process was for parents to express their regret for hurting their child in a parent letter and to ask forgiveness for unintentionally wounding them.
Many of the 9th-grade participants remarked during their interviews that when they wrote their autobiography, which was part of the Bethesda journal, they felt free from the weight of their hurtful and angry emotions. They were emotional when they shared their experiences, first with tears, but then they often followed with smiles of joy and sighs of relief.
Student participants were challenged to release feelings of bitterness and anger toward their parents and forgive them as an act of their will. The step of forgiveness and reconciliation, which is third in the Model's Four Step Journey to Emotional Healing, had perhaps the strongest evidence of success in the lives of the participants as they walked through the experience of the Bethesda Relational Healing Model. Students shared openly during their interviews that their feelings of anger toward authority, especially parents, diminished after going through the step of forgiveness.
The breakdown of the child/parent relationships and crisis situations in the family are creating challenging discipline situations in schools today (Eder & Whiston, 2006; Fagan, 2002). A child may demonstrate academic and/or behavioral issues at school; however, the problem is often rooted in conflicts within relationships at home (Heath & Sheen, 2005). There is growing need for educators to assist and reinforce parental training and discipline. Training through the Bethesda Relational Healing Model and student Peer Governance Program provided the school staff with behavioral and disciplinary tools to use with their students and parents. Participants felt that learning to communicate through conflict and to resolve issues respectfully was extremely important and one of the benefits of the Model.
Parent participants stated that one of the greatest outcomes from their child being part of the Bethesda Relational Healing Model was better communication. Their relationship was more open, and conflict in the home diminished. Because most started performing better either behaviorally and/or academically, the stress between the child and their parent decreased. The students said they felt they had learned how to communicate and confront their authorities appropriately and felt more successful with their relationships.
Conclusions From School Bethesda Advisors
School Bethesda advisors stated that they felt better equipped to handle student and parent confrontations and were more positive and more effective communicators after being trained in the Bethesda Relational Healing Model. They believed they became more sensitive to all of their students in the classroom and were less likely to resort to punitive discipline techniques after being trained.
The school's professional counselor stated, "If you look at the students that were in the Bethesda [Relational Healing model] last year, and you compare them with this year, the difference is huge. They think through problems instead of just reacting and going on...The students that I know well, I would have to say that it has impacted their lives in every aspect."
THE READERS OF THE STUDY ARE STATING THAT THEY FEEL THE BETHESDA MODEL
IS TRANSFERABLE TO OTHER CHRISTIAN, PUBLIC, AND PRIVATE SCHOOLS.