First Presenter's Institution

Willowcreek Middle School

Second Presenter's Institution

Willowcreek Middle School

Third Presenter's Institution

Willowcreek Middle School

Fourth Presenter's Institution

NA

Fifth Presenter's Institution

NA

Location

Session 8 (Sloane)

Strand #1

Social & Emotional Skills

Strand #2

Mental & Physical Health

Relevance

Our alternative program is related to the Social and Emotional Skills strand because we into account the root cause of some of the pain-based behavior our students bring with them to school and work to help each student find hope. We work to improve the conditions for our students to learn, grow, and thrive as individuals within a safe and caring alternative school community. Social and emotional skills are developed through community service, through meditation activities and mindfulness exercises. These skills help nurture a positive mind and attitude through kindness and compassion. Our mandatory community service has proven to be successful in creating a positive outlook. In a few cases students became interested in pursuing social issues. Being part of a community is important to the self esteem of the student. Our objective is to give the students useful social and emotional coping tools to use when they transition back to the traditional classroom. Also, students who use mindfulness are more likely to help someone in need and have greater self-compassion.

Toxic stress that some of our students find themselves in impairs attention, causes sleep disorders, decreases productivity, causes anxiety, and all of that impacts the students mental and physical health. The WMS Alternative classroom understands the mental abuse a student suffers affects the physical health of the student. Breathing and other mindfulness practices relax the body and mind, and gives peace independent of external circumstances. Students are taught to recognize their emotions and how to change the way they react to them. Students practice how to self regulate so they are not in a constant “fight, flight or freeze” mode. Drug, alcohol, and tobacco education are part of the WMS alternative program. Counselors, home-school advisors, and the school resource officer, participate in classroom activities. Through mindful yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises, students learn how to overturn negative and sometimes depressing thoughts into a more realistic and healthy state of mind.

Brief Program Description

Not your typical Alternative School, Willowcreek Middle School offers trauma informed practices in place of student expulsions. A safe structured environment, reduced class time, academic strategies, mindfulness, yoga, and community service, all help to provide the educational and social/emotional supports necessary to help students at risk reach their potential and eventually transition back to the traditional classroom.

Summary

Our proposal is to present a successful middle school alternative school model that treats the whole child. Our program is not a credit recovery or a computer based program. The alternative school located at Willowcreek Middle School is an intensive intervention and treatment program that offers a student at risk a second chance. Students learn to handle traumas they have suffered through mindfulness exercises, yoga, and meditation in the classroom along with a community service component that builds leadership and empathy. Instead of expelling a middle school student, we offer a safe, structured environment in which the student at risk can work academically and emotionally. We focus on the whole child and helping them cope with many issues they face in school and home lives. Our goal is to treat the trauma a student has suffered, such as drug use in the home, and physical, mental, and sexual abuse, so they can learn to cope with the trauma and live more productive lives. Our Alternative School utilizes school resources, such as counselors, school advisors, school resource officers, special education services, therapists, and transportation to and from the school. The staff builds close relationships with students and provides the strategies, skills, and activities that help a student at risk develop healthy emotional responses in their lives. The staff follows up with each student that has transitioned out of the program to ensure their continued success in high school and beyond. We also offer after school tutoring to help students academically and with their coping skills. We will present the structure of our alternative school and the components that make it a successful program for our students. The presentation will include handouts for classroom strategies, yoga in the classroom, mindfulness activities and visual meditation participation guide.

Evidence

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) reports that one out of every four children attending school has been exposed to a traumatic event that can hamper their learning. Research also suggests that the trauma informed schools are making gains. If alternative school students are going to be successful the trauma must be treated, which is why treating the whole student is a key component in the Willowcreek Middle School Alternative Program. Willowcreek Middle School Alternative Program began in March of 2016. We have serviced 27 7th and 8th graders. Of the 27 students that have been placed in alternative school, 22 students were able to successfully transition back into the classroom without further incidents that would lead to expulsion from school. The alternative school staff follows up with released students, through school email and brief meetings with school advisors to ensure the transition back to the regular classroom setting is successful. Post surveys from alternative students reveals the alternative students have an 85% average in their core academic classes. Additionally, 97% of the students report that they continue to use the mindfulness skills they learned in the Alternative School Program. Post surveys addressed to parents disclosed that parents were happy with their students ability to use mindfulness and felt the alternative setting benefitted their child.

Format

Individual Presentation

Biographical Sketch

Debra Ekdahl graduated from the Urban Teacher's Program at Indiana University and spent 17 years teaching in a urban school district. She is an instructional coach and teacher at Willowcreek middle school in Portage, Indiana.

Taria Taylor taught 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades for nine years before transitioning to instructional coaching. She served as an instructional coach for two years before moving into school administration. She is currently in her 3rd year as assistant principal at Willowcreek Middle School.

Michelle Stewart taught 4th and 5th grades for seven years before becoming an assistant principal at Willowcreek Middle School for two years. She then served as an elementary principal in two districts for a total of 14 years. She returned to Willowcreek Middle School to serve as principal, where she is currently in her 13th year.

Keyword Descriptors

Alternative School, Middle School, Mindfulness, Trauma Informed

Presentation Year

2019

Start Date

3-6-2019 9:45 AM

End Date

3-6-2019 11:00 AM

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Mar 6th, 9:45 AM Mar 6th, 11:00 AM

Willowcreek Middle School Alternative Program: Successfully Working Through Trauma

Session 8 (Sloane)

Not your typical Alternative School, Willowcreek Middle School offers trauma informed practices in place of student expulsions. A safe structured environment, reduced class time, academic strategies, mindfulness, yoga, and community service, all help to provide the educational and social/emotional supports necessary to help students at risk reach their potential and eventually transition back to the traditional classroom.