When eighth-grader Bailey Ennett first came to Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) Academic and Behavior School West (ABS West), she had physical outbursts in the
classroom almost daily. Now, the tech-savvy 14-year old thrives in the specialized learning environment.
“Bailey is always progressing,” said life skills middle school teacher Ann Mustacchia, who is concluding her first year at ABS West. “She masters her goals because she is so smart, and her social skills are great. She even likes to help deescalate students. She holds one of her peer’s hands in the hallway and acts like a big sister.”
April is Autism Acceptance Month.
Ennett, an autistic student from Alief Independent School District (Alief ISD), initially transferred to ABS West in elementary school when she had difficulty controlling her anger. Her issues with self-regulation began from an early age, says Ennett’s grandmother, Gerda Haskins, who became Ennett’s primary guardian when she was four.
“She was kicked out of daycare twice by the age of four,” she said. “She had too many issues in a regular classroom. She was disruptive and would instigate stuff with the other kids. She was fighting in school almost every day.”
Since Ennett was referred to ABS West, her grandmother has seen a transformation in her ability to manage her reactions to emotions and the world around her.
ABS West is specifically designed for students with intellectual, developmental, and behavioral disorders, autism spectrum disorder, and other significant health impairments.
Certified teachers, counselors, and behavior coaches use data-driven behavior management techniques to help students function successfully in a traditional school environment and in life.
Though Ennett had transitioned back to O’Donnell Middle School, her home campus, in 2020, her grandmother requested she be referred back to ABS West in the fall of 2021.
“She wanted to go back, actually,” said Haskins. “She never wanted to leave. She likes the environment and tells me, ‘I did good in school today.’”
ABS West’s goal is to help students successfully transition back to their home schools. However, given the characteristically small student-to-teacher ratios and nurturing staff, it is common for students to want to stay, says Principal Victor Keys, Ed.D.
“Initially, students and parents are apprehensive about coming to ABS West, but once they get to know us, it is hard to get them to leave. We are like a family,” he said. “When that happens, it takes additional planning, but we try to get them back to their home schools as successfully as possible.”
ABS West utilizes several tools and programs to identify and adapt to each students’ level of cognition and retention. Using i-Ready—an online reading and mathematics program that helps teachers determine students’ needs, personalize learning, and monitor progress—Ennett makes great strides in learning daily, says Mustacchia.
Mustacchia and Behavior Coach Courtney Atkinson, who has known Ennett for several years, share many goals for their student, including helping her successfully return to Alief ISD in time for high school and finding hands-on opportunities to develop her interests.
According to the two staff members, Ennett can tell someone the name of every dog breed and explain how to download songs from YouTube. She even helps them with the technology in their classroom.
“If you tell her, ‘Show me something I don’t know,’ she can do it,” she Mustacchia.
Day by day, Ennett becomes more independent and a role model in the classroom with the help of her teacher and coach.
“She’s come a long way,” said Atkinson. “I’m really impressed with and proud of her.”
To learn more about HCDE’s adaptive behavior schools, visit www.hcde-texas.org/special-schools.