Aides, relationships key to success of schooladjustment program

KAPA’A — Children in grades kindergarten through three who are having difficulty adjusting to school or dealing with social-emotional issues can get assistance through the Primary School Adjustment Project (PSAP), program leaders said.

Kapa’a Elementary School officials are seeking national certification for their PSAP program, they said.

Kapaa Elementary’s program is patterned after the Primary Mental Health Project out of Rochester, New York.

It is a school-based prevention program using expressive play. This researched-based model has been recognized by the U. S. Surgeon General as one of the five exemplary early intervention programs in the nation.

It has also been recognized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as a “Promising Program.”

At Kapa’a Elementary, the counselors oversee the program, which utilizes a team approach to helping resolve adjustment, social and emotional issues.

Counselor Valerie Yamane said one of the strengths of their program is the three half-time child aides who have been with the program since its inception in 1997.

Child Aide Kathleen Matsuda explained that the core of the program is the development of the relationship between the child and the child aide.

“It’s the child aide giving one-on-one attention to hear the child, and be there for them,” said Matsuda.

“Young children, especially the kindergarten students, are unable to come in and say, ‘I’ve had a really bad morning. My mom and dad were fighting, and my mom got really angry.’ They’re just going to come in and be sad,” Matsuda said.

Children express themselves through play, Matsuda continued. Through childled play, the children express their feelings, and any of their anxieties.

If children are too worried about what is happening in their lives, they cannot learn. “If we can reduce their anxieties, their learning will go up,” Matsuda said.

Kapa’a Elementary School Principal Dora Hong said the program is intended to prevent more-serious problems from occurring, so it is considered to be on the lowest level in an array of services that school professionals provide.

Certain children do need more than this Level I service, she said.

Matsuda said they had just completed the systematic screening of kindergarten students. Teachers filled out a 12-point questionnaire on their students.

The results will show whether the PSAP program is appropriate for a student.

Students may also be referred by any parent or adult on campus.

Once students are selected for the program, parental permission is obtained, Yamane said. Each child is assigned to a child aide.

Each aide is assigned about 15 students. Parents are interviewed by the child aide for background history. The counselor prepares a summary report, which includes information gathered from teachers, parents and students.

An intake meeting follows, attended by the parents, teacher, counselor and child aide. The summary report is shared, and an intervention plan created.

Communication is ongoing throughout the program, as the team approach is emphasized. Hong said a psychologist is contracted to consult with the counselors and child aides two times a month.

Since the beginning of the school year, 76 students have already been serviced by PSAP workers. They currently have 40 in the program.

There are approximately 600 students in grades kindergarten through three at Kapa’a Elementary.

In addition to play in the playroom, PSAP students participate in lunch-bunch activities. Students can bring a friend as a reward, or as a part of their intervention plans.

Child aides also service their students on the playground in order to build social skills, and to teach appropriate behaviors.

Students never feel stigmatized, Hong, Yamane and Matsuda agreed. All three have had children ask how they can get into the program.

One program that started as a PSAP activity in the playroom ended up in the cafeteria servicing all students, due to its popularity. This is the Breakfast Club.

Students can select to eat breakfast and socialize freely, or to engage in structured activities. When it’s time, students are released to their respective classes.

The child aides continue to provide some of the supervision for the Breakfast Club members.

Matsuda says it helps give students a positive, nice start to the school day. They have also noticed that it helps with attendance.

In April, the director of National Services of the Children’s Institute, Deborah Johnson, is scheduled to do a site visitation as part of the national certification process for Kapa’a Elementary’s PSAP program.

National certification is a multi-step process that involves data collection and school evaluation. The site visitation will include interviews of counselors, child aides, teachers and parents.

Johnson will make her recommendations, and the results of the national certification will be reported to school leaders two months later.

Yamane explained that state Department of Education officials allocated funds to each elementary school for three half-time positions for PSAP programs.

That money was placed in the Weighted Student Formula lump-sum budget for the 2006-07 school year.

From the 2007-08 school year on, each elementary-school principal will decide whether to continue to fund the three half-time positions for PSAP.

Some principals are choosing to reduce the number of positions, Yamane observed. She feels national certification will substantiate the value of their program, and may help to justify its place in the total-school program.

Hong has been instrumental in supporting the program, Yamane pointed out. Additional funds were allocated, giving more hours to the child aides.

This way, child aides can continue to help with the Breakfast Club, do parent outreach at community events like the Family Summit, and school events like the Family Fun Night on Friday.

Matsuda added that the child aides have been well-supported with on-going training. She feels the sessions with Carla Sharp, a registered play therapist supervisor on O’ahu, have been especially beneficial.

“The teachers really see the difference when (the PSAP students) come back. They’re writing things down, they’re raising their hands, they become risk-takers, they feel better about themselves. They increase their academic achievement,” Matsuda concluded.

  • Cynthia Matsuoka, a Lihu’e-based freelance writer, is the former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Puhi, and writes periodically on education issues exclusively for The Garden Island. Messages for her may be left with Paul C. Curtis, associate editor, at 245-3681, ext. 224, or pcurtis@kauaipubco.com.
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