Helping troubled students with behavioral issues become successful students translates into successful adults in the community.
Restoring Lives, a local non-profit, sought out participants for a Student Assistance Program, or SAP, to address behavioral issues at the root. Shenita Jones, the director of the organization hopes to expand the program to other schools and age groups in the area. The program aims to fill a gap school counselors may not have the resources to cover, Jones said.
Select students are identified by school staff from those who have behavioral plans or are on an Individualized Education Program or IEP for behavioral issues. Some have been in detention or suspended. Teachers and staff presented the program to parents at conferences earlier in the year.
The program offers group sessions over six weeks across areas of need, which are identified by the students in a pre-participation survey. Those issues include respect, honesty, trust, courage,
self-discipline, perseverance, responsibility, caring, fairness, and citizenship. The groups currently running are made up of students in first through fifth grades at Jefferson Elementary. They meet weekly with Kirk Russell, a behavioral health rehabilitation specialist and counseling intern supervised by Jones.
Teachers of participating youth fill out weekly progress scales to measure any behavioral changes. Jones said change is not expected to happen overnight, but gradual progression can be seen in the initial reports. “In the first 2-3 weeks, we have seen some progress with behaviors,” Russell said. Anger management and life coping skills are rated by educators who interact with the kids on a daily basis.
The goal is to help students develop social skills they do not currently have. Some are not able to recognize what is causing anger issues or other behaviors. The students have problems expressing their emotions, participating in social settings, and communicating with teachers and peers. Another issue is that they ‘play around’ and take things too far without realizing it, Russell said. “I’ve been involved with schools a lot,” Russell said. “I think they need someone who can recognize underlying issues and ask what happened to the child, not just ‘what’s the problem?’” Jones said if there are issues that need to be addressed on an individual level, Russell takes the information to the school or individual counselor.
Jones has invited other area schools to explore participating as well. “I think it could be at every level,” Jones said. “There is an opportunity for additional services some kids need to be successful in school because of environmental issues our kids are faced with today.” Jones said they hope to work collaboratively with other organizations and schools for the betterment of area students.