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33 OCTOBER 2001
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Helping schools say “Yes” to children who say “No”

Nancy Osterhaus and Dennis Lowe

Many schools practice zero tolerance if students behave with irresponsibility. This article describes a school program developed in partnership with a treatment facility for troubled youth that also is committed to zero reject by surrounding the most difficult students with the support and controls they need to succeed.

What should be done with a student who won’t follow your rules, even though you know he or she understands them perfectly? These students yell, cry, curse, or are alternately withdrawn and unresponsive. You never know what to expect or what will trigger anger. The student hurts other children but always claims it was “an accident" or “not my fault." Do you recognize this child?

The staff of Ozanam, a treatment facility for troubled youth “with faculty and staff of local school districts “have become increasingly aware that our nation's social problems, such as homelessness; poverty; substance abuse; emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; and neglect are reflected in the children we find in today’s classrooms. When children of abuse, neglect, chaos, and hurt present themselves at the school door, how are we to respond? The mission of Ozanam’s outreach program, Behavior Intervention Support Team (B.I.S.T.), is to help teachers enable children to trust, care, and learn.

For example, the Raytown School District, in partnership with Ozanam, is developing a kindergarten through 12th grade seamless program to reach and teach students who are resistant or act out. The program philosophy combines zero tolerance for disruptive and hurtful behavior with a goal of zero reject of students with problems.

In B.I.S.T., components of successful interventions with students who act out are provided. Teachers, counselors, and administrators learn to respond to children who act out by providing what they need (grace), not what they deserve (punishment). Additionally, we know that change is possible when students are able to take responsibility for their problem behavior and construct new ways of preventing problems. This can be accomplished in an environment where adults provide instruction and direction in a caring and consistent manner.

B.I.S.T. staff members share systematic ways to provide intervention for unpredictable children through the model of GRACE–Giving Responsibility and Accountability to Children in Education. Practical intervention steps include:

The following are examples of the results:

Although these results are exciting, teachers first had to have the opportunity to express their frustration and receive support and direction. We found that teachers often view a child's acting out in their classroom as a personal failure and find it difficult to seek help. We cannot reach hurting and angry students until we reach and support hurting and angry staff.

Raytown incorporated a system of staff support and care that is provided when teachers need it the most “during or just after an upsetting incident. This support includes regular team support meetings, individual staffing support, a crisis help line, and the availability of counselors.

Preliminary results indicate that when the GRACE model of discipline is implemented, results can be dramatic. For example, one middle school reported an 80% drop in office referrals from a team of eighth-grade teachers who previously had had the highest number of suspensions in their school. Those teachers” students demonstrated improvements in behavior in both the classroom and common areas. Of 616 children in elementary and special education schools in the Raytown School District who were referred to recovery in 1 year, only 13 required placement outside the school.

An elementary school principal noted that in the traditional punishment system, “you can’t hurt children enough to cause them to change." She added that she “didn’t enter education to hurt children," and had she not been introduced to the B.I.S.T. model, she would have left the profession.

We have been challenged and frustrated as we seek new ways to cope with the tremendous changes taking place around us. Amid all the change, however, one constant remains: our common goal of providing every student with a safe and productive learning environment.

Nancy Osterhaus has been a teacher, principal, and behavior counselor with over 20 years” experience with Ozananm, a residential and day treatment center for troubled youths. Dennis Lowe is a licensed child social worker at Ozanam with a background in working with youth and families.

Acknowledgements to Reclaiming Children and Youth: The Journal for strength-based interventions, Vol.6 No.3. This is one of the free articles on the Reclaiming Children and Youth website.

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