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Posted On: 2017-05-18 08:49 AM
By Kelsey Butler, for Edkey Inc.
Most schools just focus on their students' academic achievements, but one charter school in Arizona offers kids a more holistic approach to wellness for double the personal care in one convenient location.
In the past year, the Kinetic Energy Learning Labs for Youth, or KELLY Program, which works with emotionally disabled private placement students ranging from Kindergarten through high school, has brought an additional student-centric agenda to the Children First Leadership Academy campus.
At the eight-year-old KELLY program, staffers make sure to focus on the positive for its students who are working to be reintegrated into the traditional student population.
"Many [private placement programs for emotionally disabled students] use restraints or seclusion rooms to deal with issues," Shelbi Baros, school psychologist at the KELLY program, said. "We are the only charter program that does not do that. There's no negative reinforcement; it's all positive. We monitor and reward positive and socially appropriate behavior."
Through this system, students are able to earn "points" depending on their behavior and daily progress and earn recess, general education classes, and even outings off campus (going out for ice cream is one option). For older students, a transition specialist will take students out to look for jobs. The approximately 40 students in the program are also able to learn academically at their own grade level, in addition to receiving personalized behavioral support and counseling.
The aim of the program is to get its students reintegrated into general education classrooms and teach them how to operate in the world at large.
"[Reintegration] is 100% our goal," Baros said. "It's to teach the kids how to behave appropriately, deal with daily stressors, and deal with peers."
KELLY has filled an important need in the area—students are bused in from up to an hour away through school provided transportation—as many general education classrooms don't have the bandwidth to deal with emotionally disabled students. In addition to its small class rooms and counseling offered as part of the program, KELLY offers weekly speech and occupational therapy sessions and a close watchful eye from its caring staff.
To help students working towards transitioning back to general education classes, a functional behavior assessment is done and then an individual education plan is crafted, mapping out any problematic behaviors the student is displaying, and highlighting the primary ones that he or she will tackle until the next triannual evaluation. "It really drives the biggest part of our behavior component," Baros said.
EdKey schools started KELLY because there was nothing else like it out there—all the other programs that work with ED-P students were punitive, and they saw there was a demand for it.
And in its new location, where it just moved within the last year, KELLY has also been able to leverage some of the amazing offerings CFLA has on tap in a partnership that goes both ways.
"We utilize the staff there as much as we need, and we can reach out to them as a resource," CFLA Principal Karen Crang said. "It's a wonderful program and we are thankful we have the resource right there at our disposal."
Baros pointed out that KELLY is able to share programming and intervention ideas with CFLA staff. On the flip side, KELLY students are able to use many of the wonderful resources available on the CFLA campus.
At CFLA, an EdKey charter school serving students from Kindergarten through 8th grade, the emphasis is on serving the entire student—and that means clearing away any obstacles outside the classroom.
"We make sure that the kids are good socially, emotionally and physically," CFLA Principal Karen Crang said. That means providing its 200-plus students, with extra services that may fall out of the purview of most other schools—food, clothing and medical care.
These barriers are eliminated through a slew of programs for students, including food boxes given regularly to families in need, counseling services provided through the Phoenix Children's Hospital, and even a mobile service that comes to campus to provide dental care. KELLY students are able to tap into these resources as well, Baros noted.
Formerly the Thomas J. Pappas School, which had a mission of serving homeless youth, CFLA has stayed true to its roots to care for the entire child's wellbeing.
"We're keeping with the same mission: to serve the whole child," Crang said. "We've kept up with that. We are the one stable place in those students' lives." That means providing transportation for each child—its buses travel 400-450 miles per day so kids can get to school— and making sure they have everything they need when they get there. This includes a clothing room where students can replace worn down shoes or clothing items (or get them if they don't have them) and a washer and dryer on the grounds so their uniforms are freshly laundered.
"For new students who come in, we say do you need a pair of shoes? [Go into the clothing room and pick something out.]," Crang said. "And it makes it easier for the students that are new to the school because they're not going to get picked on. Everybody comes from the same background and everybody is going to get their needs met. It's OK to be who you are, and we're going to give you what you need to be successful."
For KELLY students, creating a place where kids are always working towards a goal, learning basic skills like how to play and interact with other students and then building on that has been truly special, community members say.
"When you see a kid is blowing it out in [general education classes] and is either hiding under their desk or is yelling a teacher, or yelling at peers and within a week or two the kid has done a complete  and loves coming to school—I think that's why we do this every day," Baros said.
Learn more about the Arizona charter schools devoted to the holistic success of their students at Edkey.org.
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