By Jeremy Tepper, ALLEGHENY INTERMEDIATE UNIT
The Duquesne City School District makes equity a priority. On a day-to-day basis, the district is constantly looking for new ways to properly access and educate each and every student equally.
Lucy McDonough, the district’s special education consultant, has furthered those efforts since joining the district this school year.
“That’s been a goal of mine, to build the resources and the capacity within Duquesne to be able to educate all of their students in the district,” McDonough said. “That’s what we’re working toward and we’re going to keep building on that.”
McDonough has helped connect the district with Pressley Ridge, who provides districts with specialized education services, among other things. This school year, Duquesne City and Pressley Ridge have partnered to have two behavioral support staff. The support staff has been so successful that Duquesne City has planned an expansion.
Currently, the district has Pressley Ridge behavioral support staff in one classroom. The plan is to expand that support staff to three classrooms.
“Pressley Ridge has been instrumental in supporting our teacher and the K-2 students as they display mental and behavioral issues. They have helped the students be able to self-advocate, as well as create a schedule that helps the students gain an understanding of their day and what the expectations are,” said Duquesne City superintendent Dr. Sue Mariani.
“The students and the teacher have been able to establish a structure within the classroom where the students are starting to feel successful inside the classroom. We are thrilled with our partnership and look forward to expanding in the future.”
Such an expansion is possible through Project SEEKS SES, an AIU and ACHD grant-funded collaboration to address social and emotional health issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Duquesne City was picked by the ACHD as one of ten districts to receive funding from the grant.
“We partnered with Pressley Ridge to provide a higher level of service within our emotional support classrooms, so that we could keep kids in the district, and hopefully make it a quicker return to their regular education classrooms,” McDonough said.
“They have a model they use with two behavioral support staff in one classroom that work alongside the teacher to address the social skills and the emotional needs of the kids, behavioral interventions, and provide a level of support that we don’t typically have here.”
Currently, the support staff is just in a K-2 classroom, which generally affects 8-12 students. With next school year’s expansion, the district will be able to impact roughly 24 or 25 students. Michele Woodward oversees all of Pressley Ridge’s satellite programs. She said her staff’s training makes them particularly qualified to handle the support that Duquesne City needs.
“All of our staff in satellite programs are trained in CPI (Crisis Prevention Intervention). They get training on trauma-informed practices and we also train them on restorative practices,” Woodward said. “We try to take on a more restorative approach with all of the students.”
Woodward said there has been a greater need for emotional and behavioral support staff in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it has come to the forefront since COVID. The students spent their time learning and socializing through electronic devices,” Woodward said.
“Now that they’re back in the classroom for in person learning, it has been a challenge. We’re really seeing it with some of the younger students who started school during the pandemic. They’re adjusting to what it is like to be in school. For some of the older students, I just think it’s something they have got used to. It’s taking some time to transition back.”
Pressley Ridge’s staff and Duquesne City’s staff collaborate as a team by identifying the needs of each student in the targeted classroom and making a plan for them. Pressley Ridge then keeps track of behavioral data and meets as a team with Duquesne on a weekly basis.
Beyond providing staff, Pressley Ridge has also provided some of Duquesne City’s staff with some of the same trauma-informed training that they have, and Woodward said they were very receptive to it. McDonough is hopeful that this collaborative spirit will help raise the skill level of the district’s staff.
“The goal is that we get immersed in hands-on behavioral interventions and we see it in action,” McDonough said.
“Always the goal of doing anything like this is that we’re able to sustain this and build the capacity in the district to do this.”