JF&CS News December 2015

School isn’t always easy for kids. There are a lot of rules and expectations. Even snack time can be a challenge. In one Central MA classroom, a teacher left snacks out for students to enjoy later. One little boy, a recent arrival from another country, helped himself to snacks all day. His teacher thought he was hogging the food.

Kids who are stressed or having trouble sitting still can show it in all kinds of ways – from talking during class to fighting on the playground – or even eating snack at the wrong time. If you Google “behavior problems in school” you’ll get almost fifty-five million results.

But helping students thrive is not just a matter of reading opinions online. Making sure that each child gets the support he or she needs requires a hands-on approach that carefully takes each student, family, teacher, and classroom into consideration. That’s where the JF&CS School-Based Consultation program comes in.

“The goal is to support public school teachers who have kids who are exhibiting challenging behaviors that are interfering with academic success,” said Gail Epstein, JF&CS School-Based Consultant. “We also look at the whole classroom to design strategies that help behavior management.”

Research shows that students with developed social, emotional, and behavioral skills demonstrate higher levels of academic achievement. And yet many school-based interventions focus exclusively on academics or already existing mental health concerns.

In contrast, JF&CS School-Based Consultation offers a collaborative approach to help kids succeed in school that focuses on social and emotional competency. The first step is an observation of the child’s classroom by Gail to get an impression of his or her behavior and interaction with teachers and other students. This helps develop an understanding of some of the obstacles the child may face in learning in that environment. Gail then carefully tailors her recommendations to the specific needs and concerns of the student, classroom, and school.

The program provides services to two public schools in Worcester as well as Jewish preschools and religious education programs in Central MA.

“Teachers have incredible academic demands on them and, in the two Worcester public schools I am working with, they’re also presented with challenging behaviors, large class sizes, and cultural differences. The teachers are responsible for the health and well-being of the classroom,” said Gail. “I support teachers by offering a large toolbox of strategies.”

And teachers are enthusiastic about the program. “The services were wonderful and very helpful. My class has made desired improvement. It has helped my teaching instruction,” said one public school teacher. “Gail has provided our staff and families great support,” added another. At the JCC preschool, one administrator noted, “Classroom teachers have used the suggested tools and advice from Gail to manage and be more effective in the classroom.”

“We try to relay information to teachers in an approachable and non-threatening way. Teachers respond to that,” said Deb Shrier, Director of Community and Program Development in Central MA.

“The goal is that the child will learn by the new skills introduced and that they will carry what they learned on to the next grade,” said Deb. “Teachers and children will benefit long after our program was involved.”

The School-Based Consultant is currently collaborating with Rabbi Aviva Fellman at Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester to create a Jewish parenting program. The program will help parents use Judaism to guide them by integrating the program’s strategies with Jewish texts. Gail’s focus is on helping parents learn child development and techniques for guiding behaviors.

“Expanding School-Based Consultation to the religious schools and preschools has been great for the agency because it gives us another way of supporting our local Jewish organizations in the community,” said Deb. “Without these resources, some children wouldn’t be able to remain in the classroom and experience Jewish learning.”

Originally published on the JF&CS blog.