Pilot Program Supports Resiliency

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Thursday December 14, 2017

When voters approved the third iteration of the district’s school budget in June, a new pilot program to serve students affected by trauma was included. A board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) was hired October 9 and now, two months into the program, the school board received their first update on how the program is progressing.

Currently, the BCBA is stationed at Rick Marcotte Central School, and discussions are underway within the district’s Resilient School Collaborative Group to determine its permanent location.

The team is working with psychologist Joelle Van Lent to examine the district’s current practices around resilience/trauma. A survey administered in November was conducted as a first step to establish a baseline of practices currently in place around resilience. With a 57 percent response rate, which was determined by the group to be representative, it was determined that a number of resiliency practices are already in place in the classroom. However, more work needs to be done at each school to identify the gaps. In addition, some staff members were not aware of the linkages between resilient practices and mental health.

This point was recognized by the BCBA as well. During her work at Central School, Van Lent has determined that although the need for clinical levels of support is low, with one of every eight students that have been identified as exhibiting maladaptive behaviors being in need of a full functional behavioral assessment, for most of the students identified, initial observations revealed teacher language and behavior as a significant contributing behavior of the students. Teachers providing students with negative rather than positive feedback was given as an example.

Central School Principal Brent Coon said, “while sometimes it is the students who need the help, we need to look at the behavior of the adults as well...the language we use, how classrooms are set up, and how instruction is planned.”

Director of Educational Support Systems Joanne Godek said the district is continuing to work toward building community links to mental health partnerships, and preparing and supporting teachers. She believes that PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) will tie all of this together to help students access education as best they can. Godek stressed that for students who have experienced trauma, the need to pull them in close and build relationships is important.

Board member Martin LaLonde noted that aside from doing a better job of supporting students, the program was launched to reduce the need for additional staff, but that cannot yet be quantified. Godek would prefer not to add staff either, but thinks keeping the BCBA position in the district is important. Coon added that he has seen a reduction in the number of referrals to the central office this year.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald pointed out that during the budget development process this year, many community members had questions regarding the need for this program and asked Godek to touch upon the root causes leading to the need for this type of support. Godek said the reasons are numerous including hunger, neglect, homelessness, and abuse. “Essentially, these children’s basic needs are not being met, therefore, they are constantly in ‘survival mode,’ defaulting to the fight or flight response in different situations,” Godek explained. The opiate issue is certainly a part of this growing trend of additional students needing support, not only in South Burlington, but nationwide. Coon said, “Their homes are not stable in many ways, both parents are working multiple jobs and shifts, which shuffles childcare.” Chamberlin Principal Holly Rouelle noted that incarceration is an issue as well.
During budget discussions in June, data was provided to the board outlining just how pervasive this issue has become. Estimates of students exhibiting trauma-like behaviors was provided to the board at that time. At both Chamberlin and Tuttle Middle School, the percentages were just over 20. Preliminary high school data indicated a number of 12.42 percent, and Central and Orchard School percentages were at 7.22 and 6.19 percent respectively.

Several recommendations have come forth from the BCBA during this short time including the need for training and support for teachers and staff in the kind of language used throughout the building, identifying how classroom environments may be better used to facilitate positive adaptive behaviors, and continuing to support and facilitate the implementation of PBIS universal supports. Further updates on the progress of this program will be provided as the year continues and as more concrete data is collected.


SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent