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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Like schools throughout the state, the Independence Local School District was forced to adapt when Gov. Mike DeWine announced the closure of buildings for the remainder of the school year to stem the spread of coronavirus.
Independence’s established behavior team has helped make the transition to a remote setting less painful for students of all ages.
The team features professionals who are trained to assess student needs, shape behaviors, offer emotional support in difficult times, provide the tools necessary to overcome challenges and generally help students move forward in positive ways.
“It’s one of the most successful things I’ve ever had the pleasure of being involved with in my career,” says Sandy McCullough, director of pupil services.
The behavior team took shape in 2018 and initially served on an as-needed basis. But McCullough and others quickly realized that the team could benefit the school community in a more comprehensive way.
The behavior team now includes a board-certified behavior analyst, three registered behavior technicians and a prevention worker, though the somewhat daunting titles and various degrees mask a more straightforward objective -- helping kids succeed no matter the challenges and circumstances.
“The emphasis of this whole behavioral program and this prevention program is that we’re really looking at the whole child and not just a disability or what their weaknesses are,” comments McCullough. “Every student has something to offer.”
The behavior team, now deprived of the emotional connection inherent in face-to-face interactions, is working overtime to ensure student wellness in a crisis that has proven overwhelming to even well-adjusted adults.
“We want to ensure students are not getting lost in all this chaos right now,” explains McCullough.
Behavioral specialists are in contact with many pupils daily. McCullough meets with educators from each building weekly to address concerns about individual students and parents receive regular updates. Continued efforts to engage children -- including those who appear to be coping well -- have largely been successful, despite the remote setting.
“Our behavior team and our counselors are doing an amazing job of reaching out to the kids,” notes McCullough.
Nonetheless, McCullough admits, “Some students are having a really difficult time engaging because they need that structure.”
McCullough and her team keep such “at-risk” students on task by providing detailed daily schedules that allow for necessary breaks, but emphasize the importance of maintaining discipline and achieving goals.
The connection provided by the virtual world is not only helping students with previously identified emotional and behavioral issues, but many others who are battling anxiety and depression brought on by the pandemic, the loss of activities, changes to time-honored traditions, family stress, the lack of a routine and a sense of isolation.
“If they’re struggling with something internally, learning to read or learning algebra is not going to be the first thing on their mind,” remarks McCullough.
Online “mindfulness” videos provide outlets such as yoga, walking and general meditation. The exercises help free students from stress while also encouraging them to remain engaged and focused.
The behavior team also supplied parents with a lengthy list of online resources that will help them discuss the pandemic with children of all ages. In addition, the team continues to inform the approach of teachers, administrators and staff -- as they have long done -- with assessments of individuals, creative approaches to learning and general observations.
McCullough argues that social, emotional and behavioral health -- always a concern -- are now more important than ever.
“We’re trying to support students in every way, because we recognize there is more to school than just academics.”
Reposted from Parma Sun Post/Cleveland.com