To learn more about how Education Alternatives serves students with emotional needs, we spoke to former EA Building Director at Brook Park and current Director of Clinical Outreach at REACH Behavioral Health, Leah Walters, LPCC/S.
What types of students with emotional needs are typically best served at EA?
LW: I would say the needs that we meet and the kids who come to us are kids who have emotional disturbance on their IEP, are on the autism spectrum, or have suffered from immense trauma, exhibit behavioral outbursts, or have other mental health concerns and emotional needs. EA is an alternative program that services students with emotional needs who also typically need additional academic support. These two issues often are intertwined.
Which program at EA best serves students with emotional needs?
LW: Our Day Treatment addresses the emotional needs of our students through a structured program. Although the mental health focus is integrated into all programs, including the specialized CORAL Autism Program and Echo Credit Recovery Program, Day Treatment is a good place to start. It’s an intense mental health program that addresses the emotional needs, anger outbursts, and struggles with building healthy relationships that most of our students experience.
We assess the academic and emotional needs of each of our students individually, and help them to set goals for healing and growth. For some students, the initial goal might be decreasing intense emotional responses to simple directions to increase daily success. All of the staff at EA are trained in therapeutic responses to children who are struggling to maintain emotional control. It is a process, and staff are committed to assisting students throughout that process.
What strategies does a school for students with emotional needs use daily?
LW: First, we get to know the student and their strengths as well as their needs. We use a treatment team approach, too, so there are many different adults involved in the process of student growth. There is a teacher in the classroom to address the individualized academic goals, there is also REACH Behavioral Health, our mental health provider, providing counseling and psychiatry, and there’s an experienced Director overseeing that effort. Everyone is focusing on the needs of the students and their success. Each day, we provide “safety, predictability, and fun.” This is something every building does at an individual, classroom, and building level. It’s an agency value that provides a framework for addressing academic and emotional needs.
Our students need to feel safe as a prerequisite before they can trust us. Providing safety and predictability builds that trust. We have a structured day that integrates academics and mental health, and a therapeutic approach that addresses the emotional needs of the students. Within that structure, fun can happen. Often, students with emotional needs struggle with maintaining their emotions and regulating their behavior during less-structured times, so providing fun activities gives them a chance to practice the skills they are learning.
How do parents partner with an emotional needs school in this process?
LW: Parents are often overwhelmed and unsure how to effectively address the emotional needs of their children, particularly when their children struggle in school. They are typically getting a lot of phone calls from their current school due to their behavior. Our goal is to build relationships with the parents as well, and give them a lot of positives, help them see the progress, and emphasize what’s going well – because there is always something that is going well.
It’s important that emotional needs schools focus on victories and progress so parents feel and see the same momentum we see every day while we work with their child. We don’t want to re-create the cycle of calling only because there is a problem; we want to reorient the relationship as more of a partnership for success.
Ready to Enroll?
To enroll in our school for emotional needs, contact Education Alternatives online or call us at (216) 332-9360.