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School Stories

Special Education: Multiple Applications at Central Dauphin School District

In August 2007, School-Connect provided on-site training for the Secondary Emotional Support staff in Central Dauphin School District located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Soon after we received the following email from Eric Shrader, a teacher at Central Dauphin East High School (CDE):

"We have been running your program for a month and I have seen some amazing things with it. Prior to teaching this program in our Affective Skills Classroom, we were teaching anything we could get our hands on and the kids absolutely hated it. I have noticed a huge difference in our students with this program. They are more actively involved and they are really opening up."

Curious to find out if this trend continued over the ensuing two-and-half years, we visited Shrader and several of his colleagues. A diverse urban school of 1,488 students in grades 9 through 12, CDE currently implements School-Connect in a credit-bearing affective skills course and therapist-led emotional support groups. The district also implements the program in off-campus alternative education programs.

Relationship building remains a key benefit for Shrader:

"The nice thing about School-Connect is that it allows [students] to build a connection with myself as a classroom teacher. I tell them straight up that I'm going to share every story that I ask them to share. It enables them to build a positive connection with someone in the school. Prior to that, they didn't necessarily know who to go to. They need to have someone they're comfortable with and can trust."

Shrader also likes the connection with academics. He proudly displayed laminated, two-page essays on perspective taking written by students who previously would have supplied only one or two sentences. He credits the program's Literature Links, Culminating Projects, and focus on real-life experiences with igniting student interest and self-expression. This was evident in class as we observed students immediately put pencil to paper to compare "things that make them happy vs. things that make them deeply satisfied"-a preparatory exercise for goal setting.

All the staff we spoke with mentioned the "nice fit" with Learning-Focused Schools, a reform model emphasizing researched-based strategies and exemplary practices that the district has adopted. "We love the research piece of [School-Connect], we love the fact that it's connected with a lot of positive practices in education today," noted Vickie Romig, District Behavior Specialist and Emotional Support Program Chairperson. "The vocabulary is clearly spelled out; there are essential questions. Those are things that are already in our schools."

The first things you notice in Shane Adams' classroom at the Focus Alternative Education Program are the computers lining the perimeter and the "word walls" of key terms grouped by School-Connect modules. Because students are largely adjudicated youth who are here for only 20-30 days as a transition from a residential facility, their academic curriculum is individualized and cyber-based.

Three days a week, students receive a welcome break in the routine when they pull their chairs into a circle for School-Connect lessons. Adams likes it because he "actually gets to teach" in a group setting and exercise his own creativity through PowerPoint presentations that touch on lesson-related issues pertinent to his students' life experiences. Plus he knows that his students "really need these opportunities to work together and learn how to avoid making poor choices."

When asked what he would tell other schools about School-Connect, Adams echoed responses we had heard throughout the day from other staff: "The first thing I would tell them is that it's easy. It's planned for you and gives a lot of good ideas of how to implement it. It touches on a lot of different skills that students need."

Making a Difference
Relationship building is a key benefit of School-Connect implementation in Central Dauphin School District in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
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School-Connect freshman seminar class


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What TEACHERS are saying...

"I have noticed a huge difference in our students with this program. They are more actively involved and they are really opening up."

- Eric Shrader, teacher, Central Dauphin East High School