New Program to Help Suspended Students
Duncan Public Schools (DPS) and Youth Services for Stephens County are working together to bring a program to the county that gives students who have been suspended from school an option to work through their suspension, as well as skills to help with some of their underlying issues.
Sara Orellana-Paape, Executive Director of Youth Services, said when she first took the position she met with community leaders. One was Melonie Hau, DPS Superintendent, and together they saw a need to assist an underserved student population — suspended youth.
Both entities worked to create a program that would benefit the schools, the community — and most importantly, the youth, according to Orellana-Paape.
“Children who are not in school are losing valuable instruction time. We wanted to create a way for instruction time to be maintained in a safe location and have the opportunity to work with the youth to empower them with tools to allow them to better communicate their feelings and needs,” Orellana-Paape said. “Currently, suspension rates are higher than what school officials would like [and] with this data, the need was identified and work began on the construction of the program.”
Hau said by working with Youth Services, the district could offer more to students and their families.
“Youth Services will provide a way for students to still be off-campus, but pair discipline with counseling and reinforcement for building stronger communication and coping skills,” Hau said. “Often times, students who reach the level of out-of-school suspension need additional mentoring to improve social skills. Educators are trained to help build these skills, but Youth Services provides additional expertise and support for students who require more in-depth interventions.”
As of right now, students who participate in the program will head to the Bill Phelps and Elaine Jones Community Resource Center (CRC) where they will have a meal, time to complete school assignments, participate in a community meeting and in the Botvin LifeSkills Training curriculum. Students who are recommended to the program may voluntarily participate with a parent or guardian in a “First Offenders” class, which aims to strengthen communication between families.
Orellana-Paape said a set of guidelines for how students will take part in the program were currently being created.
“When school staff feel this is the best fit for the student, it will be offered to the parents,” Orellana-Paape said. “We do encourage parents to ask for this option when it is available, but the ultimate decision lies with the schools. Some offenses will not qualify for this program, as it is a pilot year.”
The goal for the program is to help students with other needs, as well as academic.
“My ultimate hope, is to eventually not need the suspension prevention program,” Orellana-Paape said. “Short term, I would like students to be able to identify their emotions, put them into words and learn coping skills to deal with the emotions. We hope to see less detentions, office calls and suspensions for every student. My personal goal is for students to learn self-regulation and emotional intelligence.”
Hau said this was something DPS could do to help their students.
“Schools that help students learn strong communication and coping skills have better attendance, decreased discipline referrals and higher graduation rates,” Hau said. “Students are more engaged. Students are happier and they thrive. We hope the partnership with Youth Services helps us keep students and families on the right track. The more students who are successful in this program, the better for the community. Our intent is to keep more students in school and increase our graduation rate. I hope the public sees this as a step in the right direction for keeping kids focused on their education, rather than falling victim to patterns of violence, abuse and addiction.”
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