I have homeschooled my daughter for a year and a half. She decided she was ready to go back to school. We discussed it over the summer and agreed to let her return to the public school system because we were living in a different district than the ones where the abuse had occurred.
She is diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. In the past, she has suffered physical injury at the hands of school staff. Our ASD son has as well. Some of it is permanent damage. Our daughter had an earring ripped out. Our son has ligament damage to his wrist. Other injuries they’ve sustained have healed completely. They have both suffered extreme emotional abuse from the staff at multiple schools.
If the school had been willing to discuss with me positive behavior supports (PBS) and a behavior intervention plan (BIP), we would not be in the situation we find ourselves in today; back to homeschooling. This dear coleague letter from the United States Department of Education addresses positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS). It recommends that, wherever possible, school wide tier supports be used. This includes all of those posters you see around the school reminding students of expectations and school rules, usually in a fun comic. It also says that small group and individual supports should be implemented, as needed, for additional supports.
The behavior specialist says that, in order to reduce the amounts of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) in her system, our daughter needs to get a little exercise. So, they take her for walks. They pull her out of class to miss more and more. She falls farther behind, and we have more and more work to do at home in the five hours she has until bedtime. Then, they remove her from class while they are checking the work, regardless of if she has completed it at home with me, beforehand.
Every day across the nation, children arrive at school with built up anxiety about their day. Maybe they are worried about the math test, maybe they are thinking about bumping into that cute girl they can’t stop thinking about, or maybe there is a bully they’re afraid of running into. Whatever the case may be, in order to ease some of this anxiety, they socialize. They mill around the class (or out in the halls) and talk while they put their coats away, gather their supplies and homework, and make their way to their desks (all forms of light exercise mixed with socialization). Then, they take their seats and continue to chit chat until the bell rings (class starts). At least, I assume this is still the case, though, admittedly, it has been almost 20 years since I was in high school, and longer still since I was a fifth grader.
I am going to demonstrate a sample day that could have been much more effective for my daughter, her classmates, and the school staff. This is something that could have been implemented had the staff been willing to work with me or consider my thoughts and ideas at all (which is also a requirement of the law).
Students arrive at school as described above. Perhaps the behavior chart they had suggested before that was to not disrupt class and to keep her hands and her feet to herself could have been implemented. After all, we said we agreed with the chart, just not using recess as her reward. (The behavior specialist agreed with this, citing the need for exercise to reduce the stress hormones accumulated.)
Let’s say they begin their day with a journal writing exercise. After writing, they are going to work on some math. But, what’s between those subjects? If they were switching classes (like in high school), it would be a little socializing and exercise as they ran to their lockers and switched classes. In elementary school, it’s put away your journals and pull out your math books. Why not give them a three minute break. They could stand up, stretch, and mill around to socialize. All students would benefit from this little break. Set a timer. They return to their seats when the timer goes off. (this would all classify as class wide PBS or small group, but could benefit as a school wide PBS, as well)
Let’s say after math is art class. The children are finally out of their seats. They’re excited to be moving again and getting a break from the classroom. Yet, we line them up in a straight line. No talking for fear another class might hear them and be momentarily distracted from their class lessons. Why not instead teach the children to whisper in the hallway. To walk in groups instead of single file. To allow them to socialize quietly during transitions? Whispering shouldn’t be any more of a distraction than the footsteps are. Teachers could seat those susceptible to the distraction away from the door (which is generally closed, anyways). In high school, they will all transition together and be as loud as they want in the hallway school wide. (this would best work as school wide PBS)
After art is lunch/recess, providing exercise and socialization. This is obvious school wide PBS already in place for a very long time. They line up single file and walk quietly back to class (a leaping transition from the excitement of recess and lunch unless the above is implemented in the halls). Now, they arrive back in class to immediately take their seats and begin working on reading. While it has slowed, their brains are still pumping with endorphins. Feel good hormones that can create a feeling of excitement. Often times, teachers will allow students a couple minutes to unwind in their seats before expecting them to return to quietly focusing on classwork. (this would be an example of class wide PBS)
The teacher could then employ another three minute break as described above before transitioning into social studies. After social studies, they head to S.T.E.M. For my daughter, S.T.E.M. was in another classroom, therefore the whispered socialization during the walk through the hall would be employed here. After S.T.E.M., they head to afternoon recess. There is more socialization and exercise, relieving stress hormones.
They return to class and settle into their seats, still chatting a bit and settling down from recess. They begin their science lesson. After science, they exercise by cleaning up the classroom and packing up to go home. They leave school to return home.
I don’t feel that I am asking for much. The three minute breaks between subjects when the transition would not include leaving their desks would cost the teacher less than ten minutes of teaching time per day, but has the potential to make her teaching time more effective for all students. Lining students up to walk through the halls is preposterous. At what time in your grown up life have you walked single file? They will practice waiting in line during lunch, at the slide, at the water fountain, or any other time waiting their turn is necessary.
Many times we suggested and the school suggested a classroom aid be assigned to my daughter’s class. This was never implemented. I even suggested that they find a student teacher. Here is the benefit to all students that a student teacher would bring while helping a new teacher earn their required classroom credits. A student teacher would be available to help any student who is struggling with an assignment. If there are multiple students struggling, the teacher (or student teacher) could take that small group to a back table and work with them further, while the other is still assisting students who only have a question or two.
My plan, which could be easily implemented, costs the district almost nothing financially. The behavior chart would cost them in paper and ink. They lose less than ten minutes of teaching time allowing the kids to stretch and socialize between subjects. They gain so much more than they lose. All the students in the class (or possibly the school) would benefit from these supports. From there, we use observations and documentation to determine if there are more supports that my daughter needs on an individual basis. This is how it is supposed to work, anyways.
Am I wrong?