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Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011 05:10 pm

Schools ‘wrap’ troubled kids

Behavior program’s fate uncertain

In the fall of 2009, one Springfield elementary student was sent to the office for discipline 30 different times. The next semester, that number was down to 12 visits, with only three before he became temporarily homeless.

The decrease was achieved through the district’s most intense behavior intervention program, a PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) “wraparound.”

Through PBIS, students are all screened for behaviors that may hinder their success at school. Those requiring intervention start with a check-in/check-out program, in which a student each morning receives reminders about behaving positively in class. Students who continue to act out receive increasing interventions, the most intense of which is a wraparound, first instituted within District 186 four years ago. The district expects that 1 to 5 percent of students  could benefit from a wraparound that could keep them in their home schools, PBIS’s main objective.

In a “wraparound,” the district designs a support system of school personnel and community members, all under the direction of the student’s family. For the student described above, that meant partnering with a local church to identify a mentor, continued mental health services and in-school support, and enrollment in a youth basketball program. Besides improved behavior in class, the student’s grade percentages improved from in the 70s to in the lower to mid-80s. Because the student already had a strong team in place when he became homeless, finding a solution was expedited.

“It’s incredible what can happen when community and family and the school get together to help children and support them,” says Sara Teeter, a PBIS specialist who last week helped give an update on the program to school board members.

Kelly Scholtis, PBIS coordinator, says the PBIS program, from check-ins to wraparound, should be credited for fewer out-of-school suspensions this year. Compared to last year, the district issued 821 fewer such suspensions during the fall semester, Scholtis says, adding that having those kids in school means they’re learning more and the district gets more state money. She calculates that the decreased suspensions meant an additional $55,500.

But while the program has met some success, part of its funding is about to run dry, making its future uncertain.

With an infusion of federal stimulus cash two years ago, the district was able to add two  PBIS specialists, at a current cost of about $111,700 and $89,700, to help Scholtis, who receives about $95,700 in salary and benefits, ensure the programs run smoothly throughout the district. Since that time, the district has expanded the program, just this past fall training eight additional schools in wraparound implementation, for a total of 17 schools. While last year the district put about five students in a wraparound program, this year it’s serving 10 to 12 students in a wraparound.

But federal stimulus dollars will no longer be available to the district after June 30, meaning the district will need to find more than $201,000, should it choose to keep funding PBIS at its current level – which includes about $297,000 for all three dedicated staff members. Last year, when a grant that paid for part of Scholtis’s salary and benefits ended, the district considered eliminating funding for the program entirely, but in the end found available dollars through the district’s education fund.

Scholtis says individual schools could continue some of the more basic aspects of PBIS even without all three specialists, but the programs – including the time-consuming wraparounds – would likely suffer. “Schools won’t implement if they don’t have people there to support it,” she says.

School board president Bill Looby says the program has done some good but will be weighed alongside many other programs this spring, when the district will be struggling with yet another difficult budget year. 

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com


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