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Vt. school tackles behavior intervention strategies - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. school tackles behavior intervention strategies

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EAST BARRE, Vt. -

One school in Central Vermont is embracing some unconventional tactics brought on by a new mental health specialist.

Orange Center School has 104 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. There are 19 faculty and staff members with an operating budget of $1.8 million.

For a long time after his father's death, Ryan Spencer went to Orange Center School angry with no way to cope with his emotions.

"It would be difficult to cope with that until I just got flat out angry with everybody for doing the littlest things," said Ryan, a seventh-grader.

He struggled with disrupting the classroom as his sorrow turned into outward shows of emotion. It got so bad at one point, Ryan had to take his lessons on his own apart from his classmates.

"I was lost through the whole thing like I don't know what to do for this kid. He needs help. I don't know how to help him," said Jamie Spencer, Ryan's mother.

That was Ryan over three years ago. Ryan is now a thriving student, a YouTube junkie and a regular seventh-grader.

Ryan: I'm happiest about getting it off my chest and finally just being able to be a normal student.

Reporter Alex Apple: Is that just a huge relief for you?

Ryan: It's a pretty big relief.

Ryan works with a positive behavior intervention specialist from Washington County Mental Health.

With federal money paying half the salary, the school was able to staff a full-time mental health specialist, a rarity for a school of any size, especially for one with just 104 students.

"When they benefit and they're happy. When kids are happy, when you're happy, when I'm happy, we all do better," said Tim Francke, principal.

Francke hired Alyssa Sorrentino from Washington County Mental Health to work with all students and put in an intensive program for 8-10 students.

"We have a lot of interventions and behavior plans in place that not every school might be willing to implement," said Sorrentino.

To help Ryan, Sorrentino gave him a special device.

"So I got him a motivator. And so every 10 minutes it vibrates on him and he takes a deep breath throughout his day and so that, he says, has helped a lot," said Sorrentino.

Sorrentino works with the children's parents to help them understand their children's behavior at home in hopes of better diagnosing a child's stressor or anxiety.

Sarah and Toby White have adopted seven children, many of whom have been diagnosed with mental health issues. They say Sorrentino's creative intervention plans have paid off immensely for several of their children, especially their 9-year-old son, Patrick.

"Patrick has some language difficulties, so sometimes what he doesn't have the language for, he shows," Sarah White said. "She was able to watch those behaviors unfold and then watch his one-on-one and then intervene in that."

In September 2012, before the school changed how it handles discipline, students were asked to leave class 100 times. Three years later that number shrunk to nine. A number Francke attributes to the school's recognizing good behavior as much as bad.

"We need to stop sending kids to the office that are having a difficult time, we need to send kids to the office that are doing great," said Francke.

So the Orange Center School Rockstars Program was born, a program designed to honor exemplary behavior on a daily and weekly basis by giving good behavior school wide recognition. .

"Our children would not have responded to a punitive system," said White.

Plus any student struggling with anxiety or stress knows they have a refuge in Sorrentino's blue corner office.

It's a place of comfort for students like Ryan, now equipped for success in the classroom.

"Within a year, the difference was absolutely amazing," Jaime Spencer said.

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