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Behavior Specialists in Schools

An interesting story about a Florida school who hired a behavior specialist to help with mainstreaming and behavior issues.

If your read the story, be sure to look for any fault that might hint at teaching or school procedures (such as reinforcement systems, etc).

Schools Experiment To Maintain Order
Based on the theory that positive behavior has to be mastered before reading and math, elementary schools focus on disruptive students.

[By Barbara Behrendt for the St. Petersburg Times.] Story here

Inverness, Fla. - The 5-year-old boy had only been in Alissa Grace's class for a couple of weeks, but already he had made a big impression.
He was adept at escape, a skill he could practice easily since her classroom has three exit doors. Then there was the compliance issue.
One day last week Grace was focusing on the boy while teacher aides in her Inverness Primary School classroom worked on reading and math with her other special-needs students.
“Snack or work?” she asked the child, whose name - like the names of other children in this story - is not being used because of his age.
The boy was sliding around the floor on his hands and knees, appearing to pay little attention to the choice before him. “Snack or work?” the teacher asked again. “Work,” the child finally replied, then swung away from his work station for a mad scramble to the snack table.

Grace reached down to redirect the student, shooting Ed Grein a this-is-what-I've-been-dealing-with glance. Grein nodded. Already his detective-like job had begun.
Watching carefully how the child responded in different situations, at different times of the day and with different people, he could begin to find out what triggers good behavior and what triggers disruption. Even as the child squirmed in Grace's gentle grip, Grein was forming ways to make the school experience better - not just for the boy but for Grace, her other students and the school in general.
That's the kind of effect the disruptive child can have. In this case, an extra aide had been added to the class to help Grace deal with this one child's adjustments.
“That impacts every other kid in the school,” Grein said later.
Actually, the growing problem of disruptive and dangerous students at Citrus elementary schools is affecting the entire district. School officials have responded in recent years by adding more support from the district office. That includes Grein as a district-level behavior specialist, greater law enforcement presence and more programs geared at changing behavior.
While the district can't easily provide statistics that demonstrate the growing problem, anecdotal evidence has been mounting. Every year recently, elementary school children end up arrested or involuntarily committed for mental health evaluation. The number of suspensions has increased.
The School Board has discussed the problem as it considers the state of existing alternative programs and future needs. The discussion is timely, since the district is preparing to build a new and permanent Renaissance Center.
Prompted by board questions about the needs at the elementary schools, district officials have said repeatedly that the kind of alternative setting the Renaissance Center provides for disruptive middle and high school students won't work for the younger children.
“The philosophy at this particular time is that this superintendent does not think that separating, segregating that child into an enclosed environment is in the best interests of that child,” superintendent David Hickey said. “Children learn from other children” and need the presence of other well-behaved children who can demonstrate for them the proper behavior.
But tell that to a classroom teacher pressured to teach a challenging curriculum in a stress-filled accountability era. That teacher must reach each child in the room while also managing one student who is ruining the lesson for all. “It is a severe problem, and it really is tying up a lot of personnel,” said Marlise Bushman, Inverness Primary School principal.
“You've got this every year. You're supposed to be teaching, but this one child, he does not want to learn it and he does not want his classmates to learn it, so your goals are diametrically opposed,” said School Board member and 30-year teacher Ginger Bryant. “Something has got to give for my grandchildren and all those who sit in classrooms who deserve to learn.”

* *
The fifth-grade student was about to cock and fire his imaginary gun for the sixth or seventh time, aiming it at random points around the classroom that only he could see needed shooting.
Now and then the boy, who is autistic, would intone some sound or other, drumming fingers on his desk or his head when he wasn't busy with the invisible weapon.
Inverness Primary teacher Noreen Clark was walking other students in her class through their science fair demonstrations, but her eyes never wandered too far from the boy. Now and again she would gently ask the class to quiet down and be more attentive to whomever was up front, but it was clear the admonition was geared for one student in particular.
Time and again in a nearly unnoticeable way, she would offer special instruction or reinforcement for the boy while not skipping a beat with the rest of the students.
Despite the boy's apparent lack of attention, he did raise his hand to participate. Clark's skillful ability to gently offer extra help for the child and the boy's willingness to participate were critical clues to Grein, who was strategically observing from the back of the room.
Earlier that morning, Grein met with Clark and exceptional student education specialist Bonnie Wise to talk about the child's recent behavior problems, including an incident where he struck another student because she irritated him.
The discussion was not unlike many that happen around the district. It revolved around medication changes for the boy, who is a special-needs child. The team touched on the need for more involvement by the boy's mother. They talked about his academic progress and how he has faced consequences, such as a change in schedule removing recess time, because he is falling behind.
“He does want to be treated like a fifth-grader,” Clark said.
“He is speaking that he wants regular consequences, but he is 11 years old,” Grein said. “He doesn't realize how some of what he does can come back and bite him.”
While the child is classified as an “exceptional student” because of his special needs, he still travels through his school day in regular classrooms with other non-exceptional students. The approach is called mainstreaming, and it is the goal for as many students as possible.
“Many of them are very successful,” Wise said. “We do everything we can to keep the child in the regular environment, the regular setting.”
Sometimes mainstreaming means a teacher must deal with an exceptional student's special needs while still serving all their other students. Grein sees a number of exceptional students acting out and causing problems, but he provides services to any school or teacher who needs his help to solve a behavior issue.
When it gets really bad in the classroom, he is the one they call.
But Grein does not do this work alone. He enlists whole teams of teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, resource officers and even support staff in the schools to build a profile of a student's misbehavior. Then as a team, once they determine what sets off a problem, he helps identify a solution.
Sometimes students misbehave because it gets them out of an academic subject that challenges them. Sometimes they're hungry or their parents were having an argument before they left for school. Sometimes new medications or a changed dosage can affect behavior.
The team charts all those variables and then begins to try new approaches to see what works. Parental involvement is a critical piece in many cases. Sometimes a simple schedule change can be the answer. And sometimes the final outcome is that the child needs to be placed in a different setting such as CREST, the district's school for mentally, physically and emotionally disabled children.
“Our role as educators is to teach them appropriate behavior,” Grein said. “This gets us to the why of what they're doing.”
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