District 26 creates social-emotional program at Cary Junior High

CARY – Students with social or emotional issues who require special education now will have a program within the school district to help them.

For the upcoming school year, District 26 has created a Bridge Program for Cary Junior High. The program would be for those students who have social and emotional needs.

Director of Special Services Jennifer Thomas wrote in a district memo that there has been an increase in students who have never been identified as needing special education services but having social/emotional concerns. They have been placed directly into out-of-district programs because of the severity of their needs.

There also has been an increase in hospitalizations at the junior high level for reasons including depression, anxiety, cutting, school phobia and suicidal thoughts and attempts.

Last school year, Cary Junior High School had to provide home or hospital tutoring to eight students for psychiatric reasons, Thomas wrote. The Bridge Program would help cut down on home-based or hospital-based tutoring.

“We might be able to help them before they get to that severe level of acting on themselves,” Thomas said. “Especially those kids with suicidal ideation or suicidal attempts. Those could lead to lengthy hospitalizations or partial hospitalizations.”

The curriculum for the program would follow the general education curriculum for Cary Junior High, modified as needed to meet students’ individualized educational plans.
Students will receive individual and group counseling, work on homework/study skills and have a point-level system to monitor their progress and earn privileges.

Thomas said many of these students are ready to start classes at the junior high, but they would need self-contained classes. The students also would be able to go to regular classrooms if they are ready to do so in particular subjects. The goal would be to get the students back to general education.

“These are kids who are getting a high amount of support services already, and even that isn’t quite enough,” Thomas said at Monday’s board meeting. “So this will allow them the opportunity to stay at the junior high, continue in the curriculum and have all the supports that they need.”

The district plans to staff the program with one full-time teacher, a part-time psychologist or social worker and two paraprofessionals. The cost of the program is estimated to be $125,750. However, money would come from the cost savings of keeping students in-house rather than sending them to other programs, other cost savings and grants. There would be more than $127,600 in revenue allocated toward the program.

Running the program would allow District 26 to accept students from other districts who may have similar needs.

Students with social and emotional needs account for about half of the district’s out-of-district special education placements.

The coming school year, the district expects to bring two students from outside programs and keep an additional six students in-house who potentially could go to special education programs outside the district.

“For emotionally challenged kids, we’re transporting them an hour or hour and a half on a bus to a school in Johnsburg and back again,” Superintendent Brian Coleman said. “It’s not good for anybody at this point. We’ve always tried to keep our kids here in the building.”

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