Program aims to help students during suspension from school
CHAMPAIGN — A new program that will offer students classroom support while they're suspended is getting started in Champaign and will start accepting students Monday.
This is the first year for the pilot program in the Champaign school district, and it's officially being called the Alternative Center for Targeted Instruction and Ongoing Support program. Within the district, it's known as ACTIONS.
The administrator and two teachers who make up the program hosted an open house Wednesday to share more about how it will work. The program's classrooms are on the second floor of the former Columbia school building, where the school district has its Family Information Center and other offices.
Program administrator Katie Ahsell said the program provides a consequence for students who have been suspended, but teaches them at the same time. It also aims to figure out the root of the problem causing behavior that results in a suspension.
Ahsell was formerly associate principal at Jefferson Middle School and said she knows firsthand about discipline within the school district and what students need.
The program's teachers, Ashley Robertson and Kaleb Carter, will work with students who have been suspended, both on the schoolwork for their regular classes, as well as on the specific issues that might have caused the student's behavior.
The program calls for what Ahsell called social-emotional learning, which may teach students skills like making and keeping friends, conflict resolution and problem solving. The program will include lessons on this that are research-based, she said.
Students may also take part in "restitution activities," which are a chance to give back to their school or the community while learning something.
For example, a student is involved in a conflict, making an anti-bullying poster could help him or her learn while making something for the school.
"It makes students feel like they're contributing," Ahsell said, and gives them a voice while helping repair damages caused by conflict.
Ahsell said she's also hoping community members and leaders will visit the students in the program to share their own stories and experiences. (Anyone interested in doing so may contact Ahsell at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Ahsell said she spent the summer fleshing out the program to figure out things like transportation and meals.
"It's an out-of-the-box program," she said.
Middle and high school students can ride MTD buses, and Ahsell said she encourages parents to bring students to Columbia. If need be, yellow school buses can pick students up, as well, she said.
Getting parent buy-in is important, she said.
"We want them to understand it's best to get the child here, it's better than staying home (while suspended)," she said.
The program will also connect students with community resources, like nonprofit agencies or mental health services, if need be, Ahsell said.
Robertson will manage the cases of students in kindergarten through fifth grade who attend the alternative program, and Carter, those in sixth through 12th grades.
Robertson previously worked with students with emotional disabilities at Jefferson, and Carter was previously the physical education and health teacher at the same school.
Robertson said the program will be flexible in that, if students of different ages are dealing with the same issues, they may work together with one teacher.
Robertson said she appreciates working with students who are struggling, and teaching in the alternative program will allow her to work with students from all over the school district.
"I'm really excited to see where this goes, and the opportunities we're giving students, as well," she said.
Carter said it will be important to gain students' trust, as they may be suspended for three to five days. That's starting now, as the program's staff members visit the schools and let students know more about the program.
He said he hopes the community gets involved in program, as well.
"We will be as strong as the community allows us to be," Carter said. "This thing can be huge for kids."
Ahsell said the program will also work closely with schools both to follow up on students who have spent time in the alternative program, as well as to help those students transition back to their classrooms.
Ahsell said she, Robertson and Carter will also work to keep teachers in the loop about what students learned while in the program, and will also work proactively with students who may be starting to show behaviors that could eventually get them suspended.
The program will also provide support if schools are struggling with a particular issue, she said.
And, as the school year progresses, Ahsell said, she will be keeping records of everything that happens within the program and reporting back quarterly to the Champaign school board. The program is on a three-year pilot, so she'll be keeping track of what's being done and what works, Ahsell said.
Ahsell said she appreciates the school district's and school board's support of the program.
"It's tough to take that leap," she said, but having a program within the district is unique and beneficial, as well.
"We know students the best," she said.