“If I were to retire today this will be something I will be very proud of. I would sit back and talk to my grandchildren about why this program really centers the social-emotional mental needs of our students,” Terry Harris, Executive Director of Student Services at Rockwood, said.
The original purpose of the Individualized Learning Center (ILC) was to provide students with credit deficiencies the opportunity to obtain enough credits to graduate. Administrators took students from their home schools and moved them into a smaller, distraction-free environment. ILC teachers adapted their teaching strategies to further suit students.
ILC is being revamped by a group of more than 40 administrators, teachers, and Rockwood staff members. These improvements are being made to better the educational experience for all students.
Still, the program did not change alongside the student demographic.
“[The teachers] were trained to help credit recovery. The students that they were receiving were students struggling with deep social and emotional wellness needs,” Harris said.
Although they were doing their job, teachers were struggling to keep up with student needs. Instead of receiving students with credit deficiencies, teachers were given students with deep mental and emotional difficulties.
Noticing the techniques the ILC lacked, Harris strives to shift the goals of the ILC from helping students with credits to helping students struggling with mental health.
“The ILC is going to focus 100% of the time on mental and social/emotional wellness. Before, the program was based on credit recovery. This program is based on human recovery,” Harris said.
Harris’s goal for improving the ILC is to conduct an evaluation of the current ILC program, make suggestions to improve the program and build awareness towards the importance of students’ mental health into the ILC.
Instead of the ILC focusing on students’ credit recovery, he plans to have the program grow and develop according to student needs as time goes on. Harris compares the development of the new program to shoes, explaining how shoe sizes change as someone grows older.
“Think of this program as shoes. When you’re a certain age you’re a size four. The program is a size four. But when you get older your feet start to grow. The size four is not going to work for you. We can’t have a program that’s going to be stuck at a size four. The program has to grow with the young people and the students,” Harris said.
Harris intends to take his plans for ILC improvements to the Board of Education meeting on Dec. 2, 2021. He will present his ideas for changes and how they will be implemented through a step-by-step process. In order to do this properly, he believes that having students share their stories will make the presentation better.
“It’s just ten minutes where [the students will] openly talk about [their] struggle with mental health. What we’re going to need to overcome this is students’ faces. We need to know that the stigma of being ashamed of talking is gone. I want to capture this. I want the board to see young people talking about the importance of mental health,” Harris said.
The project of altering the ILC requires a big crew of people to help. Harris’s group includes 43 teachers and administrators around the district. Business teacher Scott Beaver is one of the teachers in the group.
“I worked at [Bailey Alternative Education] in Springfield, MO and it really had the biggest impact on my teaching and how I viewed education,” Beaver said. “I wanted to bring a system like that to Rockwood, so I felt called to [help].”
By changing this program to focus on mental health, Harris believes students will be able to learn and grow in their environment.
“If we can put strategies in place to help students overcome those barriers, then they will become the wonderful academic human beings we know they can be. I think this is going to be a great program and will benefit students greatly,” Harris said.