School district adds alternative program for elementary-grade students

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 22, 2013 

In education there seems to be an emphasis on doing things earlier.

Starting school earlier with preschool. Taking college classes earlier in high school. And now, putting students in alternative education earlier in elementary school.

The Beaufort County School District has launched a new alternative education program for students in second- through fifth-grade to identify students with behavior problems earlier and correct the behaviors, school officials said.

"Personally I was against it to begin with because I could not see why elementary school students would need this kind of program," said Gregory McCord, chief student services officer for the district.

"But I am now a believer, and I can see where we could benefit from teaching earlier modification skills."

The district started its Promising Students Program at Joseph S. Shanklin Elementary in Beaufort this school year. There currently is one student from Shanklin in the program, but McCord said he expects more by mid-October.

The optimum number for the program is 12 students, he said. The program is open to other northern Beaufort County elementary schools such as Broad River, Whale Branch, Beaufort and St. Helena.

The program at Shanklin is not open to students from southern Beaufort County because it would take too long to transport the students there, McCord said. The district hopes money is available in next year's budget so the program can be available in Bluffton and Hilton Head schools.

The district had to reallocate some money in this year's budget to pay for the program, McCord said. He could not provide exact figures, but said it is the cost of a teacher, behavior management specialist and a teacher's assistant it will hire when the number of students grows above seven.

School board member and Student Services Committee Chairwoman Evva Anderson said she thinks the program is past due.

She said it's crucial to be proactive with students so behavior problems can be fixed before they manifest themselves in more troublesome ways in middle and high school.

"And then it is reactive," she said.

The district currently has three programs for middle and high school: Right Choices High School, Right Choices Middle School -- formerly Gateway -- and Springboard for middle-schoolers. In each of these programs there were more than 20 students last year, McCord said.

Shanklin principal Celestine LaVan said the elementary program won't have as many students as the high school and middle school, but some students could benefit from the structured curriculum that mixes behavior and academics.

"If we can capture them early, they can get back in a regular setting and not lose as much time as if we wait until something major happens later and then we can't go back and undo that behavior that has been ingrained," LaVan said.

McCord said the program came out of conversations with principals. Students can get into the program if their parents request it or an administrator puts the child in it after looking at discipline records, grades, attendance reports, and other data.

A student must stay in the program at least 45 days, but McCord said a full year would do more to effect change.

The district will track the students after they leave the program to determine whether they have the support they need and are on a better path, McCord said.

"This program has the potential to help us in areas that are not always discussed," he said. "If we can offer this alternative education earlier and correct the behavior before students enter middle school, then ultimately we increase students' success."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Related content:

Beaufort County early childhood experts react to SC school readiness audit, July 7, 2013 www.islandpacket.com/2013/07/07/2570431/beaufort-county-early-childhood.html

Alternative Education Programs: http://about-right-choices.beaufortsc.schoolfusion.us/modules/groups/integrated_home.phtml?&gid=2972763&SID=

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