‘A moral imperative:’ On-site reform center will soon be instituted to help students at Silver Springs
Last fall, a student in the Nevada Joint Union High School District busted down a school door.
Five or 10 years ago, that student would have been suspended, said Brett McFadden, superintendent of the district.
But administrators chose to withhold immediate punishment. Instead, they dug deeper into the teenager’s story. They found that earlier that morning, the student witnessed his mother overdose.
The district coordinated with mental health services and were able to aid the student, but it was delayed.
One of the district’s schools — Silver Springs — will now join Bear River and Nevada Union in offering more immediate support for its students. The school will provide an on campus intervention center to help reform students and reduce its suspensions and expulsions.
Administrators and faculty want to more quickly aid students, rather than return them to a space of unresolved trauma.
“Putting (a student) back in the home environment where (they’re) angry anyway — that’s dumb, that’s stupid,” said McFadden.
Kelly Good, a teacher for Silver Springs for six years, will be the teacher interventionist for the center. Along with a counselor, her role is to keep the student up-to-date on their studies in a separate office during a regular school day while exploring the root causes of their behavior.
The district received $172,442 for the specialist position and interventionist program through the federal government, said McFadden.
Silver Springs Principal Marty Mathiesen said he’s been trying to institute this sort of program on campus for a few years.
“We deserve it and we need it,” he said. “We need the tools.”
Mathiesen, Good and McFadden have all been pushing for this program at Silver Springs partly due to the school’s high suspension rate.
Silver Springs falls into the “Red” category for suspensions, according to measurements by the California Dashboard. About 36% of students were suspended during 2018 as opposed to 15.4% in 2017.
Suspension rates have been climbing because administers and faculty members say they felt a lack of rehabilitative options available to them. This has been particularly challenging considering a student population where 76.5% of people are “socioeconomically disadvantaged,” according to the dashboard.
“A higher percentage of our students are facing trauma or social emotional problems either at home or with their families,” said Good.
McFadden was more blunt about the center’s significance.
“We have a moral imperative on this,” he said.
Rather than suspend students if they are obstructing learning in the classroom, throwing a tantrum or threatening their peers, McFadden said the interventionist center allows Silver Springs to leverage another option in reform.
“Kids don’t come in packages,” said McFadden. “Every student at Silver Springs each has their own story. And that story is valid. And that story is real.”
Mathiesen hopes to use the center to collect data on the ins and outs of students lives. He wants the new program to both provide necessary consequences and demonstrate administrator’s support for the struggling individual. The result: a low recidivism rate.
“My thing is a valid deterrent,” said Mathiesen, “that you don’t want (them) to go back there.”
Since 2011, Mathiesen said he’s tried to build a school structure at Silver Springs where students get educated, become employable and develop enriching bonds with their peers. The principal wants students to police themselves in order to perpetuate an attitude of positivity and friendship.
“All I care about is you change your attitude,” he said. “I don’t want to send them home.”
Mathiesen hopes to create a wellness program, whereby students can receive the necessary mental health treatment they are looking for. While the campus intervention center is reactive, the wellness center would be proactive.
The principal has included field trips and athletic programs to facilitate a cultural transition. McFadden has supported this theory, noting that if you help students “find their hook” to athletics, visual arts or the construction and trades field, they will be more likely to succeed.
In fact, the superintendent has been pushing for more rehabilitative spaces in the district. This is mostly because “rural areas in California typically have the highest suspension rates as well as the highest absenteeism,” he said.
According to a report by EdSource, the 2017-18 school year saw rural students suspended 5.1% of the time compared to 3.32% in cities and suburbs.
The issue has been rooted in a philosophy of “law and order” discipline, where administrators seek to punish first and ask questions later, said McFadden.
A CHANGE FOR GOOD?
Before becoming the teacher interventionist, Kelly Good was teaching economics and government.
“It was a big decision to give up my classroom,” she said. But it was a “good change” she has embraced.
While Good has never been a counselor, she has had experience working with a challenged student population at the Sugarloaf Mountain Juvenile Hall Program.
There and at Silver Springs, she has learned how to look beneath the surface of her students’ troubles, deciphering the root causes of their problems.
“Are they just having a bad day — are they just striking out — or is there something really going on?” she asked.
Ultimately, she hopes the on campus intervention center will be a mechanism to lead students toward a more fruitful future.
“It’s another safety net in helping kids transition and move on to graduation when they become seniors.”
Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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