November 19, 2019 by HCDE-Texas
Visitors Angelina Brown of the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI), Jim Thompson from nonprofit Center for Pursuit and Jaishree Ellis of Greater Houston Disability Chamber of Commerce (GHDCOC) walked away from the experience of being named “Principal for the Day” with much more than a certificate and a lunch.
After shadowing staff at Academic and Behavior Schools, the visitors representing nonprofit health organizations were fueled with information about the Harris County Department of Education schools in east and west Houston. The schools serve 25 area school districts by providing services for their students with emotional and intellectual and developmental disorders on a contractual basis. The intent is for students to return to their home districts and schools once they are equipped with behavioral and life-skills tools to be successful.
“I have a son who is in an therapeutic environment with his school district and I know how it works as a parent, but being here today is giving me an insight on how the administrators think and how they’re building things around their campus,” Ellis said. “That helps me one as a parent, but also in my role at the chamber because we are trying to build relationships with transitional directors at the different school districts.”
Ellis was able to meet with administrators and teachers at Academic and Behavior School West and learn more about what takes place each day. Along with getting a tour of the campus, she met with school officials, including ABS West Principal Victor Keys.
“I am impressed the techniques with behavior management are being incorporated throughout their processes and they focus on small achievements that are frequently rewarded and teaching the kids that they can get more at the end of the cycle,” Ellis said. “Ultimately, students are allowed to become independent enough that they no longer have to write down their progress because they have earned trust.”
Ellis compliments the model ABS West is using with its students because she hasn’t seen one like it anywhere else.
“It’s encouraging and eye-opening to see it all under one roof,” Ellis said. “The staff members here are so authentic and I can see the desire that they really want to help the students here. I appreciate that they show the students dignity and respect. At the end of the day, the prevailing message is that they (staff) love the kids but they shouldn’t stay here because they want to see them grow and be included in the community.”
“I’ve known of the Department (HCDE), but now I know more about what you do,” said Thompson, Center for Pursuit. “Now I see ways we can collaborate on things moving forward.”
The Center for Pursuit promotes the pursuit of choice, growth and personal independence for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. NAMI providers support for adults and families with mental illness. The GHDCOC provides transitional workforce opportunities for adults with disabilities.
“It’s been very interesting and enlightening for me,” said NAMI’s Brown. “To see the enthusiasm and energy I see around here is pretty amazing,” she said of the staff.
Principal for the Day is an inaugural program at HCDE Schools which links community partners with one of four HCDE schools which serve children with emotional and intellectual disabilities, recovering teens and adjudicated or troubled youth.
After touring the school and its classrooms, principals for the day met some students and staff. Later, questions fielded by the visitors ranged from topics like classroom size, behavioral programs, transitioning techniques to help students become productive adults, and transferring learned school behaviors to home life.
“I am impressed by the level of training that I have seen here today,” said Brown.