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Getting It Right

A behavior program that works.

A behavior program that works for bipolar children? This is something we thought we would never see. Imagine our surprise when we learned about Crossroads School in Kalispell, Montana. The behavior program at Crossroads School has been successful not only for children with bipolar disorder, but also with children who have other behavioral, emotional, and/or mental health issues. Crossroads School is getting it right. So why have they been so successful when other behavior programs have not?

In the past, we have been against school behavior programs for children with bipolar disorder. With information from other parents, as well as our own personal experience, we did not see any success with a bipolar child in a public school's behavior program. In fact, we have seen several children (our son included) who spiraled out of control and became more unstable from a lack of understanding and not having their unique needs met.

When we were first told by members of our IEP (Individualized Education Plan) team that we should consider the behavior program at Crossroads as an appropriate placement for our son, we fought tooth and nail. Our son had a very bad experience with an in-school behavior program and we did not want to put him through that again. We consulted with members of our son’s treatment team, met with staff at Crossroads, and after a lot of time and discussion, decided to let our son attend Crossroads on a trial basis. As we progressed through the school year, we noticed lots of positive changes in our son at school, at home, and in the community – he was making academic goals, his social skills were improving, poor behaviors were decreasing, and his skills for managing his moods, emotions, and responses were getting better. We began asking ourselves, "Why is this behavior program working when the other actually made our son worse?"

Since asking that question, we have worked with Crossroads and other individuals to find out why their behavior program is so successful and others are not. We have taken a close look at why their behavior program works, what they are doing, and their focus on the students. We have gathered information and conducted interviews. We hope that with what we have learned and are sharing, other schools can look at Crossroads as a model for implementing a successful program that really works.

Crossroads School has an inter-local agreement and serves 18 public school districts – this means each public school district is responsible for providing special education related services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and more. The staff at Crossroads provides everything else. The staff at Crossroads includes teachers, paraprofessionals, behavioral specialists, support teachers/staff, and a director.

The program implemented at Crossroads has done something for children with emotional disturbances, behavioral issues, and mental health illnesses (like bipolar disorder) that we don’t usually see in public school systems – they have shown these children that they are accepted; their students have made significant progress with academics and social skills; they truly understand each child’s needs; and they listen to and work with parents.

WHY CROSSROADS IS SUCCESSFUL

  1. The current classroom setup is four classrooms with 8 students each. Each class has one teacher and one paraprofessional for a staff to student ratio of 1:4. There are two behavioral specialists who work with the students on a daily and as-needed basis. The additional support staff, as well as the director, also work closely with the children and provide one-on-one support and intervention when needed. The low staff to student ratio and additional staff support allows not only each child’s individual and unique needs to be met, but also gives each child opportunities for one-on-one assistance whether they need help with academics, social skills, or need to take a break and get help with something that may be bothering them or causing them to have difficulties.
  2. The staff at Crossroads considers themselves to be members of a very dedicated team. They hold staff meetings every morning and work to ensure they have a positive culture and climate for both students and staff. All staff maintain an open door policy not just for parents, but also members of the child’s treatment team (therapists, counselors, doctors, and other support professionals).
  3. Crossroads has a strong belief that support and communication are absolutely critical. All staff support both the child and his/her parents, and work closely not just with the parents but also with members of the children’s treatment team to ensure everyone is on the same page with helping the child. Daily communication with parents and communication with members of a child’s treatment team is supported and encouraged.
  4. With a low staff to student ratio, over time, teachers and other staff develop an understanding of children with behavioral, emotional, and mental health issues in general and on an individualized basis. The low staff to student ratio allows them to work with children the best way possible with a high level of personal care, structure, and consistency.
  5. Children with special needs, especially mental health, behavioral, and emotional issues often need a higher level of support and more individualized attention. The general public education system cannot provide this as they often cannot increase staff proportionately as students increase. Crossroads, however, has done so, and with their low staff to student ratio can provide a much higher level of support and more individualized attention.
  6. Children at Crossroads are given clear expectations, rules, and consequences. They take part in a daily and weekly point and level system with the goals for each child being based upon their own individual needs as well as information in the child’s IEP. Children have the opportunity to earn both daily and weekly rewards based on their points.
  7. The points system used gives students an opportunity to earn 40 points per day with the day broken up in half hour increments. Point goals can include academics, behavior (responsibility, self-care, anger management, respect, safe behavior, etc.), social skills (peer/staff relationships, public behavior, problem solving). Point scores can go up and down both by day and category. The daily (and weekly) charts help staff, parents, the child, and other members of the child’s treatment team to identify and see where the child is doing best, making progress, and/or needs more work.
  8. Crossroads also implements "Fun Friday". This day focuses more on social, behavioral, and emotional skills and goals than academics. Students take part in activities both at the school and in the community. "Fun Friday" gives the students a break from the typical daily school routine, provides students a weekly goal to work towards, and also allows them opportunities to practice new skills in a variety of settings.
  9. Crossroads views their program as a constantly evolving work in progress. They make modifications for the entire program and for each student on an individual basis. Their goal is to have the program as individualized as possible for each child while giving each child all the support they need and limitless opportunities for success.

Through interviews with Crossroads staff, parents, and other individuals, we have discovered why the behavior program at Crossroads has been so successful. Crossroads has gotten it right – they understand each child is an individual and a "one size fits all" approach is something that will not work. They understand how critical support, communication, consistency, and parent involvement is for these children. They further do everything and anything they can to help children understand they are special, that they are cared about, and that they can succeed.

 
   
   
   
   

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