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A safe haven for students
LHS Green Zone designed as a therapy center
LINDSAY — Lindsay High School students with special behavior-management issues have a new option — a safe haven — where they can hang out and receive behavior, emotional and academic support.
The Green Zone is a classroom, designed as a therapy center with two behavior intervention technicians, that offers a safe and highly-supportive environment on the school campus.
“It helps me a lot. When I’m stressed, I come here and relax,” said Jason Daniel, 15 and a freshman. “I relax and they have a lot of people who can help.”
Prior to The Green Zone, Daniel said he did not want to attend school.
On Friday, a group of students talked about their experience in the program. One student said “the program helps my mean attitude since I tend to be a bit hard headed and little things tick me off.”
Opened before school, during class, breaks and lunch, students often use the room to hang out and visit with friends, said freshman Meghan McLaughlin.
A partnership between the Tulare County Office of Education and Lindsay Unified, the Green Zone is a pilot behavioral health program by the Special Services Division that has attracted numerous school district officials to Lindsay Unified.
Eileen Whelan, behavioral services administrator, said many of the students in the program have exhibited ‘escape behavior’ — outbursts, physical altercations, truancy, or refusing to participate — in order to remove themselves from the classroom and the potential embarrassment of not knowing an answer. The Green Zone offers ways to relieve the stress felt in the regular academic classes, she said.
It opened in August after administrators realized they had twice as many special-needs students than the year before.
“We started brainstorming around the table,” said Suzzane Terrill, director of Special Education and Pupil Services, Lindsay Unified. “We opened the Green Zone to 20 kids who can come in and out for behavior and emotional support.”
The group also visited several schools in the county before coming up with the unique idea, said Russ Ernst, LHS vice principal in charge of student services.
“Lindsay has been a leader in different endeavors. We knew we had a lot of students with special needs we couldn’t adequately address. This not only provides therapy, it is also a community and that is what we want for the kids,” Ernst said. “Since creating this atmosphere, suspensions have dropped and students are now participating in general education classes, with specialists tailoring education to meet the needs. It’s a great feeling to be on such a team, not being afraid to take risks.”
The safe zone has made significant difference, keeping some of them out of hospitals, said Rashella Avalos, district school psychologist.
“Last year we had one student whose social anxiety was so bad, he couldn’t go outside. If he went to get lunch, a technician needed to accompany him,” Avalos said. “This year, it’s a different story. He went out for the football team, he’s making friends and he feels connected.”
The student could be seen smiling after two months at The Green Zone.
“There’s no other program like this,” Terrill said. “They want to be just like any other kid. That was our goal — to have behavior and emotional support in place.”
A key component is academics, said Matt Griffiths, a former Resource Special Program teacher at LHS, hired by the County to teach the students.
“Often these students are behind academically, which builds frustration. Now we are able to truly meet them at their level. Not all of them are at high school levels in reading and math,” Griffiths said. “By meeting them at their level, anxiety and frustration go down. They are getting what they need across the board. We are addressing all their issues — behavior, mentally and academically.”
On hand to help are Chris Morales and Jose Iniquez, behavior intervention technicians — both of whom have built rapport with the students and are always available to assist in any crisis.
“It’s nice to see a small district like this being a leader in the industry. You wouldn’t have expected this,” Ernst said. “We have these kids with special needs and they are actually happy.”
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.