This past July, Crotched Mountain School launch-ed a carefully thought out after-school program for its students, designed to engage them physically, emotionally, socially and psychologically. The program offers structure and predictability for both residential and day students, while preparing them for life beyond the classroom.
David Johnson, director of marketing communications, explained that Crotched Mountain has 70 residential students and 25 day students who hail from across the country.
Children with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum comprise about half of the student body, while the remaining students have emotional behavior disorders, some with medication needs.
“Most of our students have multiple diagnoses,” he said. “Our youngest student is four years old. The others are six through 21. Some are 21 [years old] functioning at an 18-month level so we have a tiered curriculum. Our core academics develop daily living skills.”
The after-school program launched this past summer is aimed at “bringing education to residential life,” according to Andra Hall, Ed. D., director of education. School leadership prepared staff for the changes before implementing the program for students by explaining expectations and the process.
“Our staff (members) are not necessarily educators. They don’t have educational backgrounds,” she said, noting that these preliminary efforts offered staff a model for instilling development beyond the classroom.
The program takes structured activities in which students already participate and then uses them to build skills beyond the classroom, such as leisure, social, communication and therapeutic skills, according to Hall. Structure and predictability are key components of the program, she added.
Each child receives a “visual schedule,” that provides details on daily activities and has the opportunity to provide feedback that helps to shape those activities.
Students have the option to participate in one of several sports, including softball, soccer, bowling, basketball, badminton, floor hockey or trail walking.
Hall noted that students also spend time every day in the media center where they color, make puzzles and play board games. Other activities include cooking groups, farming, photography, drumming and adaptive dance. “We run four to six solid programs every day,” Hall said.
For high functioning students who prefer to earn some money, the school offers vocational assistance. “For example, one student is training to be a janitor and cleans the lobby alongside the regular janitor,” said Hall. “Another helps with marketing and distribution of the internal newsletter.”
Hall emphasized that the primary goal of the after-school program is engagement, for both residential and day students. She noted that students have always had other routines, but some centered around television watching or other passive activities.
“We’re trying to teach them healthy skills,” she said, noting that staff has witnessed several benefits already. “We’ve seen improvement in maladaptive behavior. And one of the biggest benefits we didn’t anticipate was that students are sleeping better. Because they are not getting back to their residence until 4:30 or 5:00 in the evening there is a lot less down time, less time to get into trouble.”
Hall emphasized that the program is designed to develop a lifelong learning perspective.