Two years ago, the Barber National Institute (BNI) began a collaboration with the General McLane School District opening a Life Skills classroom within Parker Middle School for children with Autism and/or behavior challenges. It was our first venture into offering a classroom within another district’s building, and it was a great success – so much that Michael Cannata, Special Education Coordinator of the General McLane School District, again approached us to develop a Therapeutic Support classroom at McKean Elementary. The classroom opened at the beginning of this school year.
Why a therapeutic classroom? General McLane staff were serving elementary-level children with social-emotional learning (SEL) issues that resulted in externalizing behaviors, such as aggression and elopement. Often, students were referred to short-term out of district placement. However, General McLane saw this as a “band aid” approach and hoped to create an environment where the children would be taught the skills they needed for success within the regular education curriculum.
A Barber National Institute teacher, paraeducator and Behavior support staff are the classroom team, who work with General McLane personnel. The focus of the classroom, SEL, develops mindsets for success, social skills, and learning strategies that both promote positive mental health and student behavior as well as increase academic achievement. Due to the impact of COVID-19, SEL is extremely important now more than ever.
As Mr. Cannata explained, BNI staff are specialists. “When you are having a heart problem, you go to the cardiologist. These are behavior specialists who are experts in the field, so we find it very valuable to have a working relationship.”
Since the opening of the therapeutic classroom, there have been significantly less problem behaviors, zero rates of outside placement, no crisis phone calls to parents, and no hospitalizations. Students are learning positive replacement behaviors, such as coping skills, emotion regulation, and functional communication. Overall, disruption of the school community has decreased, and all students have a more consistent environment in the elementary school.
A win/win for BNI and General McLane School District!