Preparing for a Year of Learning

at the Hunt School

At Side by Side’s Irene M. Hunt School, there’s an extra level of care thoughtfully provided by teachers and staff as they prepare to welcome students back for a year of learning, so that students with emotional and behavior challenges can experience the individualized support they need. This year, we’re pulling back the curtains and taking a glimpse at what goes into making a successful summer-to-school transition for Hunt students.

Just like at schools everywhere, Hunt School teachers work to make their classrooms fresh and new each year. You might find them creating vibrant bulletin boards, hanging decorations and welcome signs, and deciding on the annual classroom theme - a Hunt School tradition that students of all ages enjoy.

Because many Hunt students live with attention and focus challenges, many teachers experiment with special furniture and sensory equipment. Each classroom has a basket of fidget items students can choose from, and there are bands that attach to the bottom of desks, allowing students to bounce their legs while remaining seated. Many teachers install a strip of sandpaper under the ledge of the desks for sensory stimulation. There are also non-traditional chairs available, and zones in each classroom where students can go either to regulate or to get their work done.

“A lot of it is trial and error,” says Hunt School Director Jolene Yee. “Some students are distracted by the same tool that helps someone else, so we offer a variety of tools and help students explore what works for them. What students don’t likely understand is that these tools engage proprioceptive input, which helps to regulate, focus, and calm them.”

In addition to getting the physical classrooms ready, teachers are also working to prepare their academic lesson plans, which include specific supports each individual student will need to bolster their behavioral and social emotional journeys. “They review protocols for managing students when in crisis, and how to reduce a crisis. They then look at each individual student’s plan, and make sure all staff are aware of individual triggers, as well as the goals, supports and accommodations in place,” says Yee.

When there are new students joining the school, the Hunt staff goes way beyond paperwork. “We must be aware what incoming students are going to experience at Hunt School is very different from what they are accustomed to, so we get ready for that,” says Yee. “We welcome each family member for a tour, and we also meet with the school district personnel from the transferring to school to learn all we can about how a student operates in the classroom. When possible, we also go out and observe new students in the classroom before they join us.”

Finally, teachers and behavioral staff refresh their skills each year. Annual training includes courses on classroom management, data collection, first aid, and sensitivity trainings, in addition to refreshers around crisis communications and protocols. The required annual behavioral trainings benefits both newer staff, and the most veteran staff alike. Kevin Abaya, Assistant Director of Hunt’s Behavior Program, says “through the collaborative team-approach trainings, even the most veteran staff who have been working at the school for 20+ years learn something new, including the trainers that are administering the trainings.” Therapeutic considerations are also shared staff-wide, with the participation of Hunt school clinicians during these trainings.

“We also spend a fair amount of time making sure teamwork and collaboration is in place. How well we are all able to support one another in intense situations is the backbone of our program,” says Yee. “Teamwork is how we ensure we can support each student to have the best possible outcome.”

We are so grateful to our Hunt School teachers and staff. They inspire hope, they make learning accessible, no matter the challenge, and they make positive change possible, all while ensuring every student feels cared for and safe. They must have been listening when the Dalai Lama said, “When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts.” 

Thank you, Hunt School staff! Here’s to a wonderful year!

Facebook  Twitter  Instagram