They brought his name up in the At-Risk Committee meeting at the high school, a confidential forum for discussing students who may be struggling with social and emotional issues. Committee members agreed that they needed to act to help Joe get back on track.
A meeting was called with his parents. School counselors recommended that Joe begin seeing a therapist in the community as well as receiving help from the district's Flexible Support program. As the district and family worked together, Joe began to improve.
Now, the once sullen and lonely sophomore is back to attending classes regularly. He has supports in school when needed and has become active in the Art Club where he has made friends with students who share his interests.
Joe's story isn't real but the issues it addresses are; it was designed to illustrate how Croton-Harmon Union Free School District works to ensure student success. It highlights the role of the At Risk Committees at the middle and high schools, one of many efforts the district is making to support the social and emotional wellness of all students.
Other initiatives addressing these issues in Croton-Harmon include the creation of the district's Social Emotional Learning Committee; training in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which 22 staff members have received; training in cultural diversity; the launch of the Yale Emotional Intelligence program at PVC; and development of a K-12 social and emotional curriculum.
"Students can't think and do their best if they don't feel socially and emotionally safe in school," said Karen Gatto, director of pupil personnel. "We are taking a multi-tiered approach to looking at what we are doing to support social and emotional wellness and are making sure everything is connected."
Hospitalizations of students for social and emotional issues have decreased since the district created the At Risk Committees at the middle and high school, Gatto said. This may be because students are receiving help before reaching a crisis, or because those in crisis are being supported at school and at home.
The Flexible Support program provides refuge for students who may be returning to school after a hospitalization or crisis and need help easing back into the mainstream. Students in the program may complete schoolwork in a separate location, access counseling at school and receive guidance on how to catch up with work and not become overwhelmed.
Twenty-two Croton-Harmon educators have been trained in DBT STEPS-A, which teaches emotional problem solving for adolescents. Although designed to help adolescents who may experience emotional distress due to relationship issues, drugs and alcohol, self-harming, academic pressures, bullying or identity issues, all adolescents can benefit from the skills it teaches. Beginning in September 2018, all ninth graders will be trained in the curriculum, which stresses mindfulness and good decision making.
At Pierre Van Cortlandt Middle School, students are learning to be more aware of their own emotions and how they affect their ability to learn. The school is one of 30 in the region working with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and PNW BOCES to implement practical tools for identifying and expressing feelings that can interfere with learning.
The Social Emotional Learning Committee guides all of the district's social-emotional efforts and communicates with the Administrative Council to ensure consistency. Among the activities the committee oversees is Unity Day, which is celebrated in October. A nationally recognized event, Unity Day promotes kindness, acceptance and inclusion at all grade levels. It is a statement of solidarity against bullying and is in keeping with Croton-Harmon's commitment to fostering a culture of respect.