Some teachers in McDuffie County have changed their mind set, and will now be following a different course of behavior management. Sand Hills and McDuffie County Special Education teachers attended a 10-hour "MindSet Training" workshop Sept. 18-21 at the Sand Hills facility.
Sand Hills Administrator Sherri Cunningham taught the classes, which she said focused on effectively handling aggressive behavior in students. Ms. Cunningham said the previous policy for handling such situations focused on physical restraint.
The MindSet program teaches how to read the signals of an escalating situation and uses verbal techniques to calm the aggressor before they become physical.
"We are switching over to a different system that limits what kind of physical intervention you have to do," Ms. Cunningham said.
The program was written by Marshall Siler. Ms. Cunningham said she attended classes taught by Mr. Siler in Atlanta, and received her certification to train others. The training included two days of learning verbal de-escalation techniques and two days of physical intervention techniques.
"It was fun, and I learned a lot. It was very helpful," said Meredith King who teaches autistic students at Sand Hills. "We learned easy techniques to handle crisis. I've had to use it in my class before, but it will be a lot easier now that I know what I'm really supposed to be doing. I feel like I can take care of myself now."
Sand Hills is one of the 24 schools in Georgia's psychoeducational network. The Thomson facility provides service for McDuffie, Wilkes, Taliaferro, Warren and Lincoln Counties. Ms. Cunningham describes the school as a "supplementary service to the Special Education programs in regular public schools."
There are currently 63 students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade at Sand Hills on Martin Luther King Street. Ms. Cunningham said the number fluctuates as students re-enter the Special Education classes in their school, or are referred from the schools when their behavior becomes too severe for the regular classroom.
Many of the emotionally and behaviorally disturbed students were born with excessive compulsive disorders, extreme attention deficit disorders or autism, which leads to behavior problems. Ms. Cunningham said most of the students come from abusive backgrounds and are placed in foster care. Since the students are referred from the Special Education programs, Ms. Cunningham said Sand Hills is their "last stop" before being placed in a 24/7 residential facility.
"So we are the in-between transition," she said. "Whether they go back to regular school, or on to residential."
If the verbal de-escalation techniques fail, then the teachers learned safe physical interventions and restraints to effectively handle physical aggression from the front and back as well as protecting the upper and lower parts of the body.
"Of course physical interventions and restraints are always used as a last resort and only if the student is hurting themselves or others and there is an imminent danger of an unsafe environment," Ms. Cunningham said.
There was much laughter during the physical intervention training, as the teachers had to take turns physically moving each other across the room, or subduing each other as they pretended to be out of control.
"We do have children that unfortunately have to be restrained at times, and we learned the best way to go about doing that. So that was a concern, because I had not had any training in that before, so it was very beneficial to me," said Laura Williamson, a first-year teacher at Sand Hills. "We did have fun, but of course it's not fun when it really happens."