Tagged: special education

Reflection on 2018

Posted on January 8, 2019. Category: Uncategorized, WCS News

holding hands show of support for children in residential care settings

 

Cornell University’s model on helping children in residential settings grow has changed the climate and culture of our agency. We  celebrate every relationship built and every moment of positive change. We cherish them. These are just some highlights of our year…our favorite CARE moments of 2018.

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In the Education Program, a former student (graduated in 2010) came back for a visit to the school. Her impromptu visit turned into a 3 hour visit and the realization that she was having a really hard time personally. After many hugs and tears she said “Thank you, I just really needed to come back to my happy place!” It was amazing for Education staff to see the relational elements of CARE working long after the student was still with us. To be considered a place of safety and happy memories is such a privilege.

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In our Adoption Program the annual family picnic always brings the joy of watching the special adoptive families grow. During this year’s picnic, a young boy named Jonathon declared “I was so happy to come today! I wanted to see my birth helpers!!” The Director and staff were touched that this little boy not only knew he was part of an adoption story but that he coined his own title for the people who helped him find his forever family. His “birth helpers.”

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In our Summer Camp – Camp Cuheca, we had a student working as a Jr. Counselor/Intern from the boarding school. This young man is usually very quiet and brooding, hesitant to engage or get involved. But starting from Day 1 with Camp Counselor training, the staff were amazed to see him step up and help. By the end of the summer, this teen who liked to remain on the fringes and refused to conform was also climbing towers, going swimming and being a leader. This might not seem too impressive but even the campers cheered for him on the last day when he waded into the water for the first time! We celebrate the atmosphere that CARE has created on our campus where every small step outside of the normal comfort zone is an accomplishment!

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In our Medical Program there was a student who came to clinic with constant medical complaints. Although usually her health concerns were unfounded, the nurses listened and validated her concern every time. In the course of their time spent with her they found out she was most comfortable with her own pediatrician from her home town, so they made sure to provide a way for her to get back home and see this particular pediatrician. They realized positive change was happening for this student when she had NOT stopped in to the WCS medical clinic for 6 months. The staff were amazed to see that just being validated and knowing that someone would listen to her concerns greatly helped her anxiety over her health. During the course of her time at WCS, this student also lost 51 lbs, her blood sugar levels had improved and was off of previously needed medications….and this was not the goal for this student….it happened naturally, thanks to the CAREing climate at Waterford Country School!

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In the Therapeutic Boarding School program a young boy was being considered to enter this newest addition to our array of programs. After struggling in school and then refusing to go to public school, he had been homeschooled for several years and now even that wasn’t working. He wouldn’t eat or dress, was heavily addicted to video games. His parents were at their wits end but after several visits with our Boarding School Director and Clinician, they made the difficult decision to enroll their son at our therapeutic boarding school. Knowing that this child had not been in a school setting successfully for a while, the team planned to slowly help him adjust hoping that by a month, he would be able to do a full day of school. He got up, got dressed and went to school for 2 hours the first day…and hasn’t missed a day since! He loves the farm, loves the animals, loves to go to school… his parents are relieved. Lowering the expectation and working very closely with his family, we saw that the right environment, without demands or power struggles can free a child to more than surpass what is expected of them.

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In our Foster Care program, a young boy was struggling immensely. He had been in 3 foster care placements in a week. In every one he refused to go to school and created a giant struggle every day. In his new placement, knowing that he would struggle with the morning time routine and getting to school…his WCS Foster care worker, foster mom and on call staff all arrived at the Norwich office instead of school. They let the boy play basketball and blow off steam while they casually watched and talked. There was no agenda, just a meet-up of everyone who cared about him. After a while of no one trying to make him do anything, the boy came up to them and asked “What are you guys doing? I have to go to school!” That day he successfully conquered his anxiety and school avoidant behaviors….he’s been successfully attending school ever since. This kind of out-of-the-box thinking, where a team comes together to show unity and support while giving a child space to work out their difficulties is what CARE is all about.

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In our Residential Treatment program, holiday dinners are a big deal. The students live and go to school on campus and some of them are not able to go home on weekends or holidays. The WCS Board and Staff throw big dinners and invite everyone to a family meal. This year, one of the student’s biological mothers was planning to come but was having issues with transportation and at the last minute broke down trying to get to the special Thanksgiving feast. Without hesitation, some WCS staff jumped in a vehicle and traveled out to reach her and bring her to the dinner on campus. The CARE model has allowed us the confidence to do just what our motto says…”we do whatever it takes” to help children and their families. Ensuring that this family could be together for a holiday celebration is foundation to the CARE approach, “family involved.” What a change we’ve seen from extending a hand, not just to our students but to their biological families.

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In our Emergency Shelter program one particular child has been admitted 5 separate times in the last 2 years. The difference the staff could see in the young man from the first to the fifth stay was amazing. He was engaged, interactive…friendly. When he was ready to leave on his last stay with us (the shelter is a temporary placement for kids in crisis) he took turns giving everyone a hug and made a point of saying “You never gave up on me.” This same student has finished his GED and is doing well in a new job. The idea that residential staff EVEN in a temporary setting can give a child hope, when they don’t have any…is powerful. Never, never, never give up.

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Even the Staff Support and Human Resources team has stories to share of their CARE infused involvement over the past year. Whether it’s Maintenance coming to fix something a student had broken and instead of bringing punishment, started a casual conversation which turned into a friendship which earned the Director of Maintenance a new title (Hi Uncle Brian!) or the Business Office staff showing up at an intake meeting with a new family just to make sure all the financial paperwork was explained well and questions answered so the family would feel at ease. To our IT Department updating software and installing video conferencing capabilities to ensure that families that were far away could have “virtual therapy sessions” with their child and staff on a regular basis. Although these are people who work behind the scenes, they are all trained in the CARE Model and bring the agency full circle as we work together on behalf of each individual child.

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From comments on our surveys like “I feel safe here”….”the staff understand my problems” …”‘R’ (child’s worker) is my best friend!” we leave 2018 behind knowing that we built relationships, strengthened family bonds, changed expectations, instilled hope and did whatever we could to bring each of our students along their individual path of success. Every day is a new beginning…on to 2019!

 

“Work hard, play hard, learn hard” – Graduation 2017

Posted on June 23, 2017. Category: Uncategorized, WCS News

2017 graduation and awards ceremony at waterford country schoolOn June 16, 2017 the Otto Graham Gymnasium was packed full. Over 25o people were there to watch the Waterford Country School Awards and Graduation ceremony. With the 60 kids from the Levine Education Center (the ‘school’ at Waterford Country School) looking on and cheering, numerous awards were given, each of the 6 Seniors was given the opportunity to say a few words and special guest speakers commemorated the day.

Sharon Butcher, WCS School Principal, said “When people find out I work at Waterford country School they inevitably say, wow, that must cap and gown decorated for high school graduation ceremonybe hard work! Some days its hard, but most days it’s great. This is the fun part. Today I am SO proud of these students…your children.” After calling all the staff to stand and be recognized as part of the team that makes WCS great…awards were given out to all the Lower School (K-5) and Upper School (6-12th grade) students. Awards like “Good sportsmanship,” “Extra-Ordinary Effort,” “Acts of Kindness,” “Class Olympian,” “Word Wizard,” “Creativity in Writing,” “Music Enthusiasm”, “Most Improved,” “Industrial Arts”and “School Spirit” just to name a few. Vice Principal, Pam Giannelli, broke into the programming to shout out some “I Caught You’s” which were unique things she caught students doing over the year. Things like antique bottlecapping, peer mentoring, creating a lunch delivery service, impersonating staff, recycling, and impressive records for scrabble, dodgeball, basketball and the walking challenge (One student walked 51 miles in the month of May…the highest record in walking challenge history!) If you think this kind of recognition is strange, think again. Waterford Country School touts the motto “Where Everybody is Somebody” and nowhere is it more evident than a day like awards day. When everyone gets recognized because they each have unique strengths and obstacles they’ve overcome. We celebrate each of our students and their success.

senior poses with high school diploma at commencement ceremonyEmotional Seniors gave speeches thanking their families and the those who supported them through their school career. Nick said “When I came here 7 years ago, I was a defiant little punk with no dreams or aspirations. Here…I’ve made family.” Eric wrote “For 5 years, WCS was the place I called home.” CJ greeted the crowd with “Konichiwa!” and called 2 special teachers up on the stage “I bought you presents!” Ryan talked about looking back and being shocked to realize that “For a kid who had such distrust for everyone, I genuinely connected with staff here…developed family-like bonds.” Ashley state matter of factly “I didn’t see myself finishing high school” but credited the support and love and security she found at Waterford Country School. “Thanks for the pep talks, even when I rolled my eyes!” She echoed what many of the other Seniors realized, “Obstacles can’t stop you, problems can’t stop you, other people can’t stop you, the only one who can stop you is yourself. Thank you for believing in me.”

proud african american female in white cap and gown at graduation ceremonyGuest speaker, Danny Miller, spoke about being a former WCS student, struggling with a learning disability and behavioral problems. He told the students “overcoming obstacles is a lifelong pursuit…you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.” Danny recalled stories of his time at WCS and the obstacles he faced in his academic life. Humbly, he recognized how much the skills and strategies he learned spurred him on to the place he is now, just completing a Master’s in Social Work degree. What he considers his “greatest achievement.” He encouraged the class of 2017, “Barriers do not limit your potential to achieve. It takes perseverance and determination.”

“We work hard, play hard and learn hard at Waterford Country School,” claims Sharon Butcher. It’s evident from the  overwhelming feeling of hope and pride that filled the gymnasium, Waterford Country School is not just dispensing knowledge to its students but strengthening children and families that desperately need compassionate care.

Congratulations Class of 2017!

For more information about our private special education school, visit the Special Education Page

Special Education Open House

Posted on October 20, 2016. Category:

open-house-inviteThe 2016-2017 school year if off and running!  Please join us the evening of October 20 for an OPEN HOUSE. 

See your child’s classroom, meet their teachers. It is a great time to build  relationships with students, teachers and staff. We truly look forward to this evening. Hope to see you then!

An emotional Graduation Day

Posted on July 8, 2016. Category: WCS News

DSC_0385Before he could get a word out, one graduating Senior, started by warning the audience “This is emotional for me…” Looking around the gymnasium filled with Waterford Country School staff, families, kids, founding family members, caregivers, special advocates, DCF workers, foster families and friends…it was obviously emotional for everyone. Not a dry eye in the room.

What do you say about kids who come to a special school with incredibly tough backgrounds, both personally and academically? What do you do when you realize without this little school with about 70 kids nestled in the woods of Quaker Hill, these 3 young adults would not be holding diplomas and moving on into young adulthood with success? You find yourself getting emotional.  The Director of the WCS Residential Treatment Program, Emily Thomson says, “It’s pretty remarkable…coming in, you see a child who doesn’t want to be here…and you get to watch them grow right before your eyes.” On June 16th, awards were handed out for achievement in the lower school, 8th grade graduates were recognized and the 3 high school graduates received their diplomas. You could see how proud they were and how close they had become as a group as younger children hugged and congratulated their older peers.DSC_0228

The beaming smile that never left graduating Senior Magan Alejandro’s face all through the procession, ceremony and picture-taking says it all. “Magan is incredibly resilient, she is a young lady now, she advocates for herself, she knows what she wants and she’s going after it.” From her time in the WCS Residential program to the Therapeutic Foster Care Program and her year with us at the Special Education Progam…”She’s a success story. We hope she comes back in a few years and speaks to our kids.”

DSC_0243On hand to watch Magan and the other graduates were her mom, foster parents, DCF worker, a CT judge and founding family member Herb Schacht (at 93 years young!).  She invited everyone who played a part in her arrival at this momentous day…and they came. Over 250 people came to give testimony to the work that WCS endeavors to do. Shaking hands with WCS Executive Director, Bill Martin, to receive her diploma you could hear Magan exhale excitedly, “We did it!” To which he replied “No…you did it.” Our deepest congratulations to the 3 graduating Seniors. We are so proud of who you are and how far you have come.

“This day shows the spirit of Waterford Country School, that we CAN help kids.”

 

For more information about the WCS Special Education Program visit this page.