CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — It might seem appropriate that the Center for Early Adolescence should be situated in a shopping mall. After all, probably no other age group in the United States spends as much time in nation's enclosed emporiums.
But this is no drop-in center for the children of this university town. Affiliated with the University of North Carolina, the center is in a sense a defender and promoter of the educational and developmental needs of young adolescents.
"We're interested in reframing the way people think about this age group," says Joan Lipsitz, the center's director.
Since the late '70s the center's staff--now numbering 13, including six professionals--has written materials, served on commissions, organized workshops, even testified in Congress about those who are leaving childhood but are not yet adults.
'A Sense of Mission'
"We have a sense of mission toward the service-providers for the 10- to 15-year-old age group," Lipsitz says. "One of our primary concerns is some sort of integration among the three major groups involved with adolescents," which she defines as researchers, policy makers and "practitioners." The latter, she says, include teachers, health-care officials, activities directors and social workers.
According to Lipsitz, who has taught in secondary schools and at the university level, the seeds for the center were sown as she did research for the Ford Foundation on "who's doing what, where, for the junior high student." The initial result of that study was a book she wrote, "Growing Up Forgotten."
"The title says it all," she says, summarizing her findings.
From there, six regional conferences were held on the young adolescent. These resulted in a set of recommendations, one of which was a "plea for a central place where people could turn for information on everything from training and technical assistance to improving schools for adolescents," she says.
Today the center has a mailing list of almost 20,000, with educators and church youth workers among the best represented. Almost all of its funding is from private foundations.
Advice on Schools
The center publishes a newsletter on "Issues in Middle-Grade Education," and provides advice on what to look for in a junior high or middle school. Also available is a manual for assessing individual schools, as well as Lipsitz's second book, "Successful Schools for Young Adolescents," a collection of four profiles of middle schools around the country she found to be of exemplary quality.
For schools, the center can be an invaluable resource in organizing seminars and workshops. At North Garner Junior High School in Garner, N.C., a five-session workshop for parents of junior-high students is being organized with the center's help. "We're fortunate to have them so close to help us on this," says the school's principal, Gerry Ritter.
The center has compiled information on a number of topics of specific concern to this age group, including why adolescent girls often fall behind boys in math performance, and the special challenges of disciplining young adolescents.
Topics of current interest to the center are adolescent literacy and what is being called "the 3-6 issue": the problem of the young adolescent going home after school to an empty house.
"We want to look at the relationship between the impact of school and achievement and the hours spent alone or unsupervised," Lipsitz says. "If schools are sticking more to the basics, then perhaps the kids most hurt by that are those who don't have opportunities after school to explore options."