Guest post by David Caruso

Though many students successfully navigate their middle school years, some students lose focus, have tremendous difficulty developing positive relationships, often avoid work, and engage in extremely disruptive behavior—all of which impede academic and social progress. As administrators, we know well that these are the students whose problematic behaviors, if not corrected, will result in frequent visits to the office for discipline. 

After trying various interventions with these students without much success, our staff came together and rethought our intervention program. We realized that in order for these students to find success, we must address the underlying social, emotional, and academic skill deficits that contribute to their behavioral and academic struggles. That is why East Hartford Middle School developed the RISE program.

What is RISE? 

RISE is an intervention program that stands for Restore Inspire Sustain Educate. RISE supports students struggling with behavioral problems in a small and separate learning environment. A collaborative team of professionals, led by a special education teacher, works together to deliver targeted emotional, social, and academic learning activities aimed at developing the skills necessary to build healthy relationships, deal with adversity, and allow for increased focus and academic success. The program consists of four phases.

Phase I: Identifying & Monitoring Potential RISE Students 

The first phase of the program involves classroom teachers and administrators identifying students who may be exhibiting early signs of behavioral struggles. The RISE program leader and success coach conduct classroom observations of the identified students and attempt to identify any “triggers” or other causes of the disruptive/defiant behaviors. They provide the teacher with an observation summary that includes intervention strategies to correct the misbehaviors and teach the desired behaviors.

Phase II: Intensive Intervention Plan & Student Referral to RISE

If our Phase I interventions prove ineffective, the team will move to Phase II and develop a more intensive and highly structured intervention plan to address the student’s ongoing behavioral concerns. The team will meet every two weeks to monitor progress and adjust the plan. If after six weeks the plan is not yielding the desired results, the team completes a referral for RISE intervention to the school administration.

Phase III: RISE Program and Individual Skill Development

Once a student has been welcomed into RISE, they participate in an orientation in order to get acclimated to the program and its expectations, and to build connections to adults and other students. After orientation, a student will attend the RISE program all day for a period of four weeks (though it varies for each student). Our RISE program leader is a certified special education teacher specializing in managing student behavior and provides students with different learning experiences each period. A typical day in RISE looks something like this:

  • The student starts the day with a group session facilitated by a member of our support staff (school psychologist, social worker, or our school resource officer) and addresses the skill deficits interfering with their learning. The group learns how to navigate challenging peer issues in a positive way, engage in self-esteem boosting activities, work through adversities, and deal with failures.
  • After the group session, students work on various activities that help address skill deficits. Students have real-world opportunities to practice these skills and put their learning into immediate action.
  • Core subject teachers will come in and co-teach with the program leader to deal with issues particular to that class.
  • As the student progresses through the day, they are awarded points that result in earning individual incentives, such as gym activities, computer time, and lunch with friends.
  • The program leader will review daily progress with each student at the end of every day and share a weekly summary with families.

Phase IV: Transition for Success

After a student has exhibited sustained improvement both socially and academically, we will transition the student back to their academic team. The program leader facilitates this transition by tailoring a plan to meet the needs of each student. Each plan includes the following steps and goals:

  • The program leader and the team preparing to receive the student back work closely to select classes that will place the student in the best position for success.
  • As the student demonstrates the ability to be a productive member of the class, the student will re-enter additional classes and join their team.
  • When appropriate, the success coach from RISE may join the student in their team classes until the student is comfortable and confident to do it with the support of the teacher.
  • The team will continue to monitor student progress and adjust the plan to ensure the student continues to build the right skills that foster personal growth and academic achievement.

Positive Growth

Now in its second year, the RISE program shows promise and positive results. Of the 29 students who have been part of the program, 18 have successfully transitioned back to their academic team or have advanced to high school. Only two of the students were sent to an alternative program outside of the building. The nine students currently in RISE expressed thanks for helping them get back on track. The program has been very well received by parents and staff who appreciate the additional support.

The RISE program has provided our school a way to address problematic behavior before it makes a lasting impact on a student’s future. What are your best behavior intervention practices? Could a program like RISE help your middle school students develop the social, emotional, and academic skills needed for school and personal success?

David Caruso is the first assistant principal at East Hartford Middle School in East Hartford, CT. He is the 2016 Assistant Principal of the Year.

About the Author

David Caruso is the first assistant principal at East Hartford Middle School in East Hartford, CT. He is the 2016 Assistant Principal of the Year.

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