First Presenter's Institution

Willow Creek Middle School, Portage Indiana

Second Presenter's Institution

NA

Third Presenter's Institution

NA

Fourth Presenter's Institution

NA

Fifth Presenter's Institution

NA

Location

Session 1 (Ballroom E)

Strand #1

Social & Emotional Skills

Strand #2

Mental & Physical Health

Relevance

Willowcreek alternative program is related to the Social and Emotional Skills strand. Our Alternative School takes into account the root causes of some of the pain-based behavior our students bring with them to school. We work to help each student find hope. Everyday we work to improve the conditions for our students to learn, grow, and thrive within a safe and caring alternative school community. Social and emotional skills are developed through community service, meditation activities and mindfulness exercises. These skills help nurture a positive mind and attitude with kindness and compassion. Our mandatory community service has proven to be successful in creating a positive outlook and in a few cases, students became interested in pursuing social issues to help their community.

Being part of a school community is important to the self esteem of the student. Our objective is to give 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.

The WMS Alternative classroom understands the mental abuse a student suffers also 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. 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. 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

Willowcreek Middle School in Portage Indiana is not your typical alternative school. We offer 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 support 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 64 7th and 8th graders. Of the 64 students that have been placed in alternative school, 57 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, 90% of the students surveyed reported 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. She spent 17 years teaching English in an urban school district. She is an Instructional Coach at Willowcreek Middle School. Debra created a successful Alternative School program that services two middle schools in Portage Indiana.

Keyword Descriptors

Alternative School, Middle School, Mindfulness, Trauma Informed

Presentation Year

2020

Start Date

3-9-2020 10:30 AM

End Date

3-9-2020 11:45 AM

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Mar 9th, 10:30 AM Mar 9th, 11:45 AM

Willowcreek Middle School Alternative Program: Successfully Working Through Trauma

Session 1 (Ballroom E)

Willowcreek Middle School in Portage Indiana is not your typical alternative school. We offer 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 support necessary to help students at risk reach their potential and eventually transition back to the traditional classroom.