MT. ORAB – The Western Brown Board of Education received a visit from the Working to Empower Students Together Program during their meeting on Feb. 8. WEST is geared to serve students with severe emotional disturbances, autism spectrum disorder, or severe behavioral challenges.
The program is lead by Jennifer Bohrer. Bohrer serves as the Director of Special Education for the Western Brown District.
According to Bohrer it is the only program of its kind in the entire state. Other programs have parts that WEST offers, but Western Brown is the only program working toward putting students back into the regular classroom setting instead of isolation of students for part of or during their entire school career.
According to the District wide survey, other than reading, behavior is the second biggest concern among teachers for students with a disabilities. The biggest concern comes from the elementary school age children. According to the assistant director, Andrea DeBoard, the District is working with parents, teachers, and staff to develop plans that address these problem areas for students in the Western Brown District.
“I don’t know if you all (Western Brown BOE) saw this recently bit in the State of Ohio we are actually expelling more kindergarten students than high school ones,” Bohrer said. “There is several reasons for it. The biggest reason, honestly, is the heroin babies are now in school. Behavior is an issue across the state and that is something we are trying to address.”
Western Brown is addressing behavioral issues through the implementation of the WEST Program. Intervention Specialist Tim Chadwell spoke on behalf of the WEST Program to the Board of Education. He thanked them for their continued support in helping children with behavioral issues and problems get back into the classroom instead of remaining isolated for their entire school career.
“We are really proud of of the direction the program is going,” Chadwell said. “I am really proud to be with this group of people. These are child centered folks who always have the best interest of the children first. We have created a family atmosphere in a very short period of time.”
Chadwell said the first goal of the multi-tiered system is to change the behaviors of children in the program by focusing on things that have made them unsuccessful in the classroom. The move to an academic focus has meant more students taking advantage on the online curriculum at Western Brown, the A+ Program. Chadwell said students are now getting credits and are in-line to graduate on their intended date. He said the program also focuses on self-esteem. He said seeing students be successful is important to changing behavior in students.
“The success is really what helps self-esteem,” Chadwell said. “Success breeds success. Holding students accountable and rewarding them for their good work, their self-esteem rises.”
The third step in the program is to not only transition back into the regular classroom setting, but to develop individuals who can be successful in the workforce after leaving Western Brown. Two students in the WEST Program are prepared to make the transition to Southern Hills Career and Technical Center as long as their behavior turn around stays on track according to Chadwell.
Three current WEST students have transitioned, at least in part, back into the regular school environment. Chadwell said the Karate and equine programs through WEST have been a huge part of the success for students moving forward.
“We are seeing students enthusiastic about school activities who have never been enthusiastic about school before,” Chadwell said. “We believe the vision Ms. Bohrer shared with us is becoming a reality. Students are moving toward being successful, employable adults.”
Emily Jeffers is Western Brown’s invention specialist in the department with a focus on younger children in the program. Jeffers said they have not only seen behavioral gains, but academic gains. One of her students, a fourth grader, entered the program and did not know the alphabet, that student is now reading.
“Of course he is not to grade level yet, but to go from not knowing letters as a fourth grader and couldn’t spell his last name and now he is reading,” Jeffers said. “That is very exciting. He is now excited. When we go to the farm he is reading the signs at the farm. It has really renewed my excitement to teach.”
Bohrer said even though WEST started as her vision, she could not do what those in the program are doing. They are working with the most severe behavioral issues in the district and she said they are doing it so well. She said it was “unbelievable” how far they have come academically and behaviorally.
Bohrer also introduced a program called “peer connectors.” The program allows for seniors to work with students within the district who may have behavioral issues. Bohrer said the seniors get to play the role of the cool teen rather, than the mean teacher and students are very responsive to it.
“Our seniors have the opportunity to sign-up to work out of any of our buildings with students with disabilities,” Bohrer said. “I am very proud to say that 55 seniors, part of their day is spent working students with disabilities.”
Bohrer said the seniors may get more out of the program than those who are the focus. She said the students become much more than a class for seniors, but a change in their lives.
Bohrer’s daughter participates in the Peer Connectors Program working with WEST students. She gives her mother a different perspective on how the program is helping not only students in WEST but seniors at Western Brown.
“Honestly our seniors working as Peer Connectors are getting more out of it than the students with disabilities,” Bohrer said. “They are seeing a totally different side. She (her daughter) was in the closet one night throwing things around looking for fossils. I asked ‘why are you doing that?’ She said so-and-so in the program really likes fossils. It would be really neat if I brought these in to show them to him. It has been a good a very good thing for our seniors.”
Bohrer said the biggest success for the program are the students who participate it in. The Board of Education heard from two students in the program. One is currently transitioning not only into the regular classroom, but plans to attend Southern Hills next year to study culinary arts. The only, a student who is transitioning from a home school program because of being bullied. Not only is that student transitioning back into the regular classroom, but is also participating in Western Brown’s JROTC.
As the program moves forward, Bohrer hopes it continues to grow and continues to help transition students back into the classroom. The program currently has eight students but is equipped to handle 22 students. According to the WEST pamphlet it is open to any student in a Region 14 school. That includes Brown, Adams, Highland, Clinton or Fayette Counties.