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How Two Schools Are Helping Students with Emotional and Behavioral Problems to Succeed

The Babock Middle School and the Westerly High School in Westerly, Rhode Island are examples of the many schools that have succeeded in effectively educating students with emotional and behavioral problems in regular educational settings. Teachers and administrators at Babock and Westerly say that the keys to their success have been their high expectations for the learning and appropriate behavior of all the students in the schools and their close collaboration with families as they develop and use their new approaches.

At Babock and Westerly, every student and teacher knows the rules they are expected to follow, including: come to class prepared; and share materials and take turns. To help students with emotional and behavioral problems learn how to control their own behavior and abide by these rules, teachers, school psychologists, social workers, and special educators with backgrounds in behavior management work together closely. Each school has a planning room where all students can get emotional support, extra help with school work, do their homework in a quiet setting, or do problem-solving on a computer. A special education teacher with training in behavior management supervises the planning room and tutors students in areas where they need help - whether it's writing a term paper, or how to request assistance from their classroom teacher without disturbing the other students. When a student needs additional help, such as community mental health services, the planning room teacher can help the family find support the student needs -and even make appointments for them.

For each student with emotional and behavioral problems, an IEP teamCwhich includes the student, the student's family, the student's general and special education teachers, and the school psychologist or social workerCdevelops an individual behavior management plan. The plan establishes clear expectations about appropriate behavior and might provide the following specifics: that the student spend an hour at the end of each day in the planning room for extra help; that the student work in a small group with a school psychologist for one hour a week to learn how to manage anger appropriately; that the student can go on special field trips if he or she meets behavior expectations; and that the student can refer him or herself to the planning room when they need a "timeout" from the classroom. The team monitors the student's behavior regularly, and if it is not satisfactory, the team may change the plan during the school year.

When students are disruptive, these schools use several approaches to maintain order. First, they provide rewards for good behavior. If that does not work, they impose consequences such as extra homework assignments. If this does not succeed, they work with the student's family to impose planned consequences at home, such as limiting television viewing. If these are unsuccessful, the schools may use in-school suspension, or, if the problem persists, the IEP team will review and change the IEP or use a creative approach to suspension such as having the student engage in supervised community-service work.

Classrooms also are organized in a way that helps all students to learn. General and special educators often team-teach classes; one teacher can concentrate on presenting new materials to the class, while the other can work with individual students who need extra help. Ongoing and intensive professional development has been important in making team-teaching successful and in helping teachers learn the specific strategies for working with students with behavioral problems. For example, team-teachers and the school psychologists and social workers participate in three-day summer institutes where they work intensively together to plan curriculum and behavior management strategies for the following year.

Babock and Westerly began implementing these strategies for working with students who have emotional and behavioral problems in 1991. Parents of two such children worked with Westerly to develop and implement a plan to educate their children in their neighborhood schools. The funding that had been used to support these students in separate schools supported the creation of planning rooms - that helped two students and many others.

As a result of these new ways of working, Babock and Westerly have been able to improve the grades, achievement, and attendance of students with emotional and behavioral problems. At the same time, they have decreased disciplinary referrals and created a community of students, families, and teachers that promotes high expectations and learning challenging academic materials.


U.S. Department of Education (1995). Individuals with Disabilities Education Act amendments of 1995: Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). (p.50). Washington, DC: Author.


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