Franklin Countys First News

Letter to the Editor: In regards to the PALS program

Dear MBRSD voters,

I am writing regarding the PALS program, what has been referred to as "Alt-Ed for Elementary." At the bottom of this letter, you will find the sources I pulled data from. The only resource I didn't include was the timeline of education in the U.S.

At the meeting on May 7 at the MB Campus, I heard some confusion about the program that the elementary teachers, administrators, and staff have devised to help our towns' children who arrive at school every day unprepared to learn, due to the emotional dysregulation in this percentage of children.

I submit what I've written, below, to try to make sense of a disorder that is so new that it goes by at least three names. This disorder is so intense, so sudden, and so disruptive that the professionals tasked with "fixing" it are probably so busy attempting to determine consistent "fixes" that they haven't had the time to do the more formal aspects of research: naming, official publications, conference presentations, etc.

Herein begins the more abstract part of this letter. Let your imagination run free for a bit... :)

When is the last time you showed up for a conference, expecting that you would be fed, and you weren’t? Well, why didn’t you eat at home? Isn’t that on you, as an adult? Oh, you didn’t go to the grocery store. Yeah, well. Then, you kinda knew what the consequence would be.

Now, imagine that you aren’t the one who buys your food, your heating oil, your shampoo? Is it still on you? Are you as ready to go out into the world, at that conference where everyone is always so chic, so energetic, so smart, so... non-stinky?

Back to the conference where you were so hungry, possibly also tired, brain fogged, and a bit **rank**.

Were you able to learn as much, or were you paying attention to your belly? Chances are you forgot you live in Maine and thus must layer -- every day, everywhere you go, regardless of the weather outside. Did you jump up and yell: “Why isn’t there food here? What’s wrong with you people? Confer means meet. We’re meeting at this conference. Where people meet, there is supposed to be food! And why can’t you regulate your air conditioning? I told you two whole minutes ago that this gym was too hot! Can’t you do anything right?”

Of course you didn’t. You probably had an internal struggle, vowing to “become ill” if you weren’t handed at least a Twix bar. And your focus kept going back to your belly, which then made your emotions become more intense. The internal struggle became darker, with more adult words, and your facial expression changed.

But you kept all of your thoughts inside your head. Maybe you doodled. Maybe you wiggled your knee, silently, under the table, but no words came out. No yelling. No jumping up and down.

Suddenly, you’re six. Are you as relaxed about the hungry-tired-angry-hot-smelly situation as you were as an adult? Why? If you have children, you know how "the tag is too itchy," and "the socks feel all pinchy" and those sorts of hyper-aware phrases tend to come out of hungry, tired, cranky kids. Then, you probably spoke gently and kindly to that child, providing food, a nap, and cuddles or a book as soon as humanly possible. Your experience with that kid was memorable, for sure, but you both came out of it relatively unscathed -- fixed by the food, sleep, and love.

I'm here to say that not all children have those kinds of safety nets.

I'm here to say that the children who most benefit from public school are the ones who come to school for the food, the structure, the praise -- heck -- the smiles in the hall that they get from that one teacher they only see one period out of every eight. Real smiles, I swear, nourish children more than Kraft mac and cheese.

The kids who come to school for care have not learned the kind of self control that adult you used at the conference, as you were HANGRY, tired, and the wrong temperature. Children arrive at school who are hungry, angry, tired, and uncomfortable every single day – except that their angry words come right out, no matter what, no matter when, and at whomever – toward children and toward adults.

The adults who are receiving this kind of treatment from hurting, confused, needy kids are hired to teach a whole room full of elementary children so they can be as prepared as possible for the rest of their lives -- from high school graduation straight into and through retirement.

And just in case you let yourself wonder: yes, teachers these days definitely know how to discipline students with clear boundaries, consequences, and steps. Marzano. It is to teaching as Gray's Anatomy is to medicine. Everyone has a copy, has been trained, re-trained, and quizzed on it. We can all close our eyes and see our copy, on our classroom's bookshelves.

Statements about dysregulation in children being about lax discipline is akin to assuming that a person could fight the car-consuming lava of Oahu with little Dixie cups of water, brought in sporadic bursts because the one dispensing the cooling agent (the teacher) has 22 places to be at once, even though the lava is really causing some problems right now (lava = kiddo having a really, really hard time calming down and/or being quiet).**

One question I’ve heard is: “Well, why don’t these kiddos go to Special Ed?” invariably, they do. From the first inkling that a child might qualify for Special Education to the child’s new Special Education plan officially starting is a 12-week process, at minimum. That means that a child who is in the regular ed to special ed pipeline, the problematic behavior will affect 12 weeks, at 5 days per week, 5 hours of instruction (I took 1 hour away for lunch, recess, etc), affecting 21 students. That yields 1260 days of individual schooling, yielding 6300 hours of adversely affected instructional time.

(Please, please, please check my math: 12 weeks x 5 days x 21 other students in that child’s elementary classroom x 5 hours – 6 hour school day, minus 1 total hour for lunch, breaks, passing time, restroom breaks, etc.).

And that is one classroom, in one school.

Why PALS is needed is the same reason there has been alternative education added to high schools and middle schools, prior to now: there are students who want to learn, but right now is not that time.

How PALS is envisioned for our district is that once the PALS students are back on track, they will re-enter the regular ed classroom. That will happen to quickly and efficiently teach kids behavioral skills they need to be successful in school and then return the students back to their regular classrooms in an efficient timeframe. All this will happen under the guidance of our district’s child behavior specialist, who will create individualized intervention plans for the students, to teach any missing behavioral skills so they can be successful in the classroom setting.

In closing, in case you’re wondering what kinds of behaviors can appear in a child who is not regulated, “Children are not knowing the appropriate way to act in school. They feel that they cannot communicate without hitting."

In the past 18 years, more and more pressure has been put on teachers to be on top of every nuance of every student, to know how to teach each child in the way that works for him or her, and also to be disciplining a sizable group of children who are showing up ever more tired, more hungry, and less capable of “doing school,” as my child behavior expert buddy said.

As Americans, as New Englanders, when we know that society has changed or is changing, we reassess our current situation, try our best to predict future needs, and then we change. Maybe it’s because we’re like our weather: wait a minute, and maybe we’ll change. Maybe it's because we keep gardening, even after a failed season. Maybe it's because we are ruled by the seasons, so we have to be flexible to change.

Young women in Boston wanted to be enlightened like all the men in New England, so in 1873 Massachusetts responded, allowing them to be educated at home, via correspondence courses.

Where would we be, had this change for New England women not been embraced -- then hailed -- for the great educational leap that it was?

Native American kiddos weren’t being educated, so in 1879 the U.S. responded.

Where would we be, had this change for America’s first citizens not been embraced -- then hailed -- for the great educational leap that it was?

Little Suzie wanted to be a three sport athlete with uniforms that were cut for her body’s sprints, jumps, and free throws, just like her brothers, so in 1972 the U.S. responded.

Where would we be, had this change for America’s women athletes not been embraced -- then hailed -- for the great educational leap that it was?

Little Johnny couldn’t write, so in 1975 the U.S. responded.

Where would we be, had this change for America’s English / Language Arts students not been embraced -- then hailed -- for the great educational leap that it was?

C’mon citizens of RSU9: the kiddos who come to school for boundaries, for caring, for clarity, for consistency need us. And… we need them. In a few short years, six to be exact, our state will have a combined job shortage of over 11,000 – with both demographic changes and job growth accounted for.

Nope: move outs are NOT included in that number. That number includes people who were here, in Maine, in that age band, during our last census.

That means that the labor shortages you’ve noticed, lately? We’re scratching the surface, here in 2018. 2024 is going to be much more intense.

If you love Maine, and you love being able to get things done, and – yes – if you love putting your time and energy into building potential, please vote to support PALS by voting YES on the school budget on May 15th, at your town’s polling place.

Respectfully submitted to the voters of the RSU9 School District.

Heather Huish

**Clarification: I was drawing a comparison between a child’s behavior and lava merely because it’s right there and it will not get better no matter which ones of your typical teacher bag of tricks you try. This is absolutely not any disrespect for students. Honestly, I feel for kiddos who are acting out the most because invariably, they want to do better but they do not know how to. Like I've said so, so, so many times since becoming a teacher-mom: "Worry if your kid isn't choosing home for melt downs but is melting down at school." If kids are melting down at school, invariably there is a set up there -- a teacher, guidance counselor, or friend -- who is helping them learn the boundaries / strategies they so want to have.

Some resources, for any folks who are looking to learn more about any of the data that I included, above:

All about dysregulation and its effects on children (Quick: think of some sweet little kiddo you know, go grab your tissues, and then read this pamphlet):

https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/sites/default/files/public/KMP_C4_CMHD_HowMentalHealthDifficultiesAffectChildren.pdf

Another description of dysregulation, more cut and dry, by The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology:

https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Disruptive_Mood_Dysregulation_Disorder_DMDD_110.aspx
Maine Jobs Data:

http://www.maine.gov/labor/cwri/outlook.html

Resilience (scroll to the second chart and below for the Rock Star Resources):

https://www.change4health.org/it-begins-with-you/recovery-resilience/ibuw-resilience/
What would be cool is if we could back to all members of the community taking care of one another. You know, Titcomb -- except all across town (I can dream). That way, folks could help teach one another the following types of "adulting" skills:

https://www.cssp.org/reform/strengtheningfamilies/2015/StrengtheningFamilies101.pdf

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16 Responses »

  1. Nicely written Heather. I find that some people just do not understand some kids behaviors - and probably never will if they don't observe, study and learn more about them!!

  2. I wish this could've had more publicity and exposure. Well-written. Thank you Heather.

  3. First, thank you very much for the time and effort you have put into responding to the many posts.

    So, based on your para three. The problem is so new, that RSU 9 is actually in the experimental mode of trying to implement a possible fix to our local problem.

    I ask this question once again. Nation wide, is there any program that has demonstrated clear cut success?

    I have asked for a simple outline of the progression the student will go through.

    Are all the students in this program going to be in one class room, 16 different class rooms?

    What is the PLAN? Is the plan still being worked out?

  4. Dulles, thank you for your questions. It does seem like we are financing a very expensive experiment. I believe they plan to have two different classes for ages K-2 and 3-5.

    There are many questions unanswered as of yet. The one that bothers me the most is this: If a disruptive student is transferred to a PALS class, what happens if that student disrupts a PALS class? What is to be done with him or her. There are no more PALS classes to ship the disrupter to.

  5. Quick responses to the folks who wrote: First of all - thank you for the kind words about the research and writing I've done, here. It truly is a labor of love, in that my call to service is the people of Maine -- always has been. Might sound goofy, but it's the truth.

    OK, on to the answers that I can tackle from 100% knowledge. The others I'll want to check in with the administrators / teachers / guidance staff who put the plan together, as I do not want to misrepresent their work.

    Gail Carlson - Thanks for the kudos. I finished this piece this morning at 1. I had been mulling doing it, but had various (sigh...) medical appointments to go to, so my time has been wonky this week. Last night I was just all: "C'mon H! No point keeping this in your head where it isn't helping anyone." Then, I spoke to my child behavior expert bud, and it just came out. I'd like to do a video that accompanies this (the original plan I had until the time just went away). I think, at the very least, it will help members of the community to realize just how challenging life has become for some of our youngest. From now on, I'll use your words as a carrot for me, when I'm wondering whether to share my knowledge. I'll print it and stick it on the wall of our den! :)

    Matt Allen - I was SO happy when I found those resources. There aren't many, and they're listed under so many names, but the good ones are helpful.

    Just Sayin' -
    Understanding is what I'm about; I'm inspired by an Einstein quote which apparently isn't an Einstein quote (Thanks, Internet!): "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

    I just try like heck to clarify muddy points that I have about an issue, while also trying to consider any and all perspectives on said issue. Finally, thinking about how I can communicate it in the simplest terms. I come from a family that runs high to educators and medical practitioners, so perspective and communication are sacred to us.

    Dulles - Thank you for noticing and then specifying my writing; that was thoughtful of you to notice. :) Writing teachers like to know if their craft is being effective, particularly if effectiveness of message is communicated to their students.

    On to the questions. I will list them all here and mark the ones I'll follow up on, as my knowledge isn't entirely solid, so I'd rather write: Lemme find out for you! :)

    "So, based on your para three. The problem is so new, that RSU 9 is actually in the experimental mode of trying to implement a possible fix to our local problem."

    Answer: thank you for the specificity of your question, as it helps me become a better writer.

    I was trying to convey that this specific kind of pediatric emotional behavior has come on quickly for everyone, including the experts to whom others look for guidance -- such as the best minds in pediatric psychiatry, etc. I should have made it more clear that the speed and intensity of this phenomenon has taken wide swaths of professionals by surprise, leaving them with no choice but to do the best they can to help kids who are right in front of them. Luckily, there is information out in the world, as I was able to find when I wanted to nail down the definition, myself.

    I know that you later inquired about the plan, so I'll skip ahead and say that I will need to go on a reconnaissance mission -- via email -- to find out. In other words, that will also help to clarify the "mode" that PALS will be implementing. Off the top of my head, knowing the professionals involved with its creation? My prediction is that the research for our program will have been so well thought out and researched, that soon other districts will come to RSU9 for guidance. Good thing I'm not a betting woman. :)

    I will need to seek the answers to the following questions, as I cannot state that I would be answering from 100% (my fault, not the fault of the RSU9 staff who presented...):

    I ask this question once again. Nation wide, is there any program that has demonstrated clear cut success?

    I have asked for a simple outline of the progression the student will go through.

    Are all the students in this program going to be in one class room, 16 different class rooms?

    What is the PLAN? Is the plan still being worked out?

    I will do my level best to have answers to these questions as soon as possible. Don't know when, but I will make sure it's publicly available, widely. :)

  6. Bill Reid - Thank you for asking: "If a disruptive student is transferred to a PALS class, what happens if that student disrupts a PALS class? What is to be done with him or her. There are no more PALS classes to ship the disrupter to."

    I'm not answering from 100%, but I will answer the part I *can* answer from 90%. But please remember: I am taking a 10% risk that I am not correct, so I want to make sure everyone is okay with that. *Wink, wink*

    The process from regular ed classroom to a special ed classroom, as I understand it:

    1) a student displays concerning behavior*;
    2) depending on severity of concerning behavior, student proceeds through the RTI Tiers that the school has established, as they learned from child behavior experts;
    3) after reaching Tier III, a SpEd referral is made.

    Best case scenario, in terms of the length of the process: twelve weeks. The more specialists a student has to see to confirm diagnoses, the longer the process.

    Again, I'm not a Special Ed teacher, so the intricacies of the process are quite fuzzy for me. My fault. I'd still like to give you a partial answer, if I can.

    I believe PALS would be in between Steps 2 & 3, thereby removing the child from the regular ed classroom as the child goes through the necessary clinical testing required to qualify for Special Education. So, in this hypothetical twelve-week period, a student could certainly continue to be disruptive. I would go so far, personally, to say that they will continue with the behaviors, for a time. The difference being that the teacher to student ratio would be much different, as would instruction, its personalization, etc.

    If the student is deemed to have learning disabilities, the Special Education placements start. If a student was removed from a classroom for behavioral issues, and the behavioral issues stemmed from a learning challenge, then the students have one type of plan, whereas the students who have emotional regulation challenges but no learning disabilities, students would then go to ?day treatment - at far reaches of my Special Ed knowledge?.

    I'll follow up with you, as I will with Dulles. Not sure of exactly when the answers will be posted, but research and write, I will. :)

    * (Examples = missing knowledge from my brain, 100% my fault, to be followed up on)

  7. Great response to the questions posted by myself and others on this forum. Looking forward to a progress report as the program matures.
    Can not ask for much more at this point. Happy to be part of positive dialog.

  8. The 16 students will be in two different rooms the way it was explained. One room for k-2 in Mallett school and one for 3-5 at cushing school. Some of the statistics are still being worked out because they don't have the staff that will be working with the kids so once hired they will have between then and the first day or so of school to iron out curriculum. These details that aren't concrete yet and the fact that it was expanded for grades 3-5 adding the extra roughly $140k without giving the program a year to show it works is why some of us on the board did not support it.

  9. Thank you Heather!

  10. Thank you Ms. Huish for taking a stab at answering my question First, in other threads this PALS program was said NOT TO BE A SPECIAL EDUCATION program. My question is much more limited.

    Let me clarify. It has been reported that in a regular non-disrupted class, that has the misfortune of having an acting out student, that class has to be stopped and the non offending students must be evacuated from the classroom. (Odd as that may sound.) The disrupter is put in a PALS class. Now the question is what happens if a student disrupts the PALS class. Is the PALS class then emptied? Where do those students go and where does the disrupting student go? There are only two classes for PALS disrupters?

  11. I have a funny feeling that Mr Reid can't wait to report on a n. class disrupter that transitions to a PALS class, and guess what? I told you so!

  12. If one teacher in a regular class room cannot handle one disruptive student, how is one teacher going to handle 8 in one class? We need to know the root of the problem. We cannot blame parents for everything, that is just a cop out. The idea may be good, however it hasn't been totally thought out. These students are not going to be "fixed" in a few weeks. 16 disruptive kids on a bus all together with the bus driver? Distance between towns?

    How long of bus rides do you expect a kid to be on the bus. More questions than answers.

  13. Heather, Thank you a thousand times over for taking the brunt of our questions.

    Another question begs to be answered: Why is it you have to go it alone? Where are the staunch school board supporters who feel so strongly about this program.

    Someone out there must be able to provide additional supporting data to help Heather answer the posters questions.

    Lack of answers to voters questions, is the basis for the distrust and anger that is dividing this community.

    Oh, wait, I forgot that intelligence won.

  14. These are all excellent questions. The only problem is this being a new program there are no answers that I know of yet. The curriculum will be set once they hire the faculty and decide which kids attend. The bus ride is undoubtedly going to be very long for some students I'm sure as the ten towns are widespread and we don't know which towns they live in. But as was mentioned in the meeting evidently our job isn't to micromanage money it's to just pass the budget. I'm in hopes that we will start getting answers sooner than later.

  15. Jason, above, wrote “The idea may be good, however it hasn't been totally thought out.” It sure seems like this program has not been fully considered. Yet the voters in RSU9 raised almost a half a million dollars for an untried unrefined program that raises questions about important details for its implementation. Some might say they bought a pig in a poke. The transportation problem had not occurred to me. I would not want to be that bus driver. I see that bus problem too. I believe that my question, above, is a sensible one and does need an answer.

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