중앙데일리

One-hour program a refuge for at-risk youth

Jan 17,2015
Lee Mi-kyeong runs a one-hour school program in the library in the district office in Eunpyeong District, northern Seoul. She teaches new skills to students who have had difficulty adjusting to a normal school environment. By Oh Jong-taek
Six years ago, Yang-gu, then just 14 years old, lived with his sister and his mentally incapacitated grandfather.

At home he would often skip meals and secretly wished every day that he could have a meal at his friends’ houses, just so he could eat until he was full.

It was around that time when Lee Mi-kyeong, who runs a one-hour school program in Eunpyeong District, northern Seoul, first met Yang-gu.

He and his friends were acting up near the library Lee and her neighbors had set up in the district office, she recalled, and the kids were shooed away by the police.

Observing them one day, Lee approached Yang-gu and his friends and told them, “If you have nowhere else to go, come to the library to study.”

In response, she remembers, Yang-gu mumbled, “I am not interested in graduating middle school.”

His reply shocked Lee, particularly as the mother of a daughter Yang-gu’s age.

The children with Yang-gu seemed to be in a similar situation - none really had a place to go or a reason to go home.

“I felt uncomfortable when I thought of them left out on the streets,” Lee said. “I felt compassion.”

So she brought Yang-gu and his friends to the library to show them a movie, which ended up having a positive effect.

Later on, the kids even produced a mini-documentary about their lives and presented it at their middle school, where it was met with encouragement, Lee said.

So Lee made up her mind to take care of the children longer and give them more responsibility.

She asked the teachers at middle schools close by to substitute one hour of their teaching for one hour in the library, and assured them that the children would return.

“That’s how the one-hour program began,” Lee said. “Instead of going to school, the kids came to the library every day and learned something different each time.”

With assistance from residents in town, the children have also learned a variety of skills, including woodcraft, candle-making, pottery and knitting.

“The kids encouraged each other not to skip coming to the library. They would say, ‘We can’t disappoint Ms. Lee,’” she said.

The result: Yang-gu and his friends, now around 20, returned to school as Lee had promised and graduated from middle school after all.

“But it wasn’t just the kids who had a change in attitude, it was some of the parents, too,” she said.

Lee has now expanded the one-hour school program following Yang-gu’s success, and it now has connections to six middle and high schools in the area.

“About 100 kids have gone through the one-hour school program so far,” Lee said. “And 10 of them are preparing for another stage in their lives.” 

BY KIM SUN-MI [ypc3c@joongang.co.kr]





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