FEF-Supported Program Helps Students Return to Classrooms
A new program at Lawrence School provides a welcoming environment for students who are returning to the classroom after a long-term absence.
Funded by a grant from Falmouth Education Foundation (FEF), the Bridge Program is designed to aid students following an extended leave due to a mental health condition or medical illness. Principal Thomas Bushy and Assistant Principal Rebecca Vieira applied for an FEF grant to establish the program at Lawrence School for the 2018-2019 school year after witnessing the successful implementation of a similar program at Falmouth High School.
“We conducted an attendance assessment at Lawrence School and looked very closely at the numbers. Some of them were too big to ignore, and it opened our eyes to the fact that this isn’t just a high school problem,” Mr. Bushy said.
Many of the students who are eligible for the program exhibit anxiety and depression as the result of a significant life event, such as a change in family structure or a geographic move. Excessive absences also can be due to medical issues, such as head trauma, discipline problems resulting in suspension, or other behavioral issues.
The FEF grant pays for training and ongoing first-year support from Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition (BRYT), based at Brookline Community Mental Health Center, a network of school-based, innovative programs that address the needs of students as they re-integrate to the school setting. Membership provides both on and off-site support, professional development conferences throughout the year, and access to an online data portal to share resources, such as templates for intake reports, progress reports and other documents. It also allows for collaboration with a network of over 100 other schools across the state that have implemented the Bridge program. Mr. Bushy underscored the impact of brainstorming strategies with other participants as Lawrence continues to makes strides in their implementation of the Bridge program.
“If we need advice on a specific issue, such as a student who is dealing with anxiety in the morning, we can send out an email and expect at least 20 responses with suggestions,” he said.
According to Mrs. Vieira, the Bridge transition is estimated to be an eight- to twelve-week period, depending on the student, to gradually re-integrate to their full schedule, sometimes one class at a time.
“These students have traditionally been supported by home and hospital tutoring, which is a cost to our school and our district, and it also continues to take them out of the school environment. With this program, we’re able to utilize our own staff,” Mrs. Vieira said.
To that end, a former weight room in the basement of the school has been transformed into the Bridge classroom, equipped with a designated work space and private meeting space. A teacher opportunity grant from FEF also provided funding for therapeutic furniture for an informal seating area, in addition to tools to help with de-escalation and stress reduction.
Lawrence School teacher assistant Karen Hogan serves as the academic coordinator for the program, working as a liaison between the teacher and the student’s team, to help relay assignments, lesson plans and expectations for the transition period. A customized case plan addresses academic support, clinical support, family support, and care coordination. School adjustment counselors Nina Casavant and Selby Bourne manage the clinical component, and additional support is available through the special education building administrator and school psychologist as needed. Mr. Bushy and Mrs. Vieira work as administrators for grades eight and seven respectively to ensure a successful case plan for each student.
“Some assignments may be waived or modified, but this allows for a direct partnership with the teacher. The academics are still happening, just in a different setting. This is a very collaborative effort between the family and the Bridge team. There is a lot of weekly communication, in addition to meetings and benchmarks, so we can make sure we’re making effective progress on the goals we’ve set aside for each student, both academically and clinically,” she said. “It’s all about caring for our students and making sure they get back into the classroom where they are most successful.”
Mr. Bushy credited Superintendent Lori Duerr, who was appointed last March, for recognizing the value of the Bridge Program.
“We are very lucky to have the support of the central office team, and we are supremely grateful to Falmouth Education Foundation for funding this project. Without FEF, none of this would be possible.”
The Falmouth Education Foundation grant programs are funded through the generosity of donors throughout the community. One source of funds is the annual Winter Gala, set for March 2, 2019 at the Coonamessett Inn. At this event, the foundation will honor longtime Falmouth volunteers Mike and JoAnn Fishbein. Tickets will be available in January.