Life-Changing Outcomes for Exceptional Kids

Pandemic Related Transitions Program Distance Learning and Telebehavioral Health Services

By Jay S. Cohen, M.Ed, Transitions Program Supervisor and Valery Bailey, MA, First Children Services Vice-President of Operations

As the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of Transitions Program classes on March 16, teachers and therapists raced to explore novel methods of delivering distance services to our students. Staff members initially identified the most critical issues that needed to be met so that every student would have access to learning.

Student Support

The first need we addressed was the lack of an available computer or printer in each student’s home. Laptop computers were delivered to the homes of every student who did not own such a device. As some of our anxiety-ridden students were uncomfortable with participating in on-camera learning, a hybrid platform of virtual lessons utilizing Zoom, combined with daily telephone conversations between students and staff members, was scheduled. Assignments, in packet form, were mailed weekly to those students who did not have home internet service, while the remaining students were sent their assignments via electronic means. Those students without internet service snapped a photo of each mandated assignment, conveying the completed work to the assigned subject instructor. Throughout this process, teachers logged daily telephone contact with each of their students, offering all class enrollees academic support with positive feedback, when possible. Further scheduled support was offered to the students by a teaching assistant and student peer mentor.

Therapeutic/Emotional Support

Transitions Program Social Workers, Katherine Fearon and Lauren Jacobs hold a Zoom group for students.

The second need we identified focused on the ways we would continue to deliver therapeutic services to our students. Together, our licensed clinicians and teachers realized that they had to prioritize the basic needs of the students who were suddenly, without preparation, forced into a home-based learning environment. Telebehavioral health services were offered to students on a daily, weekly, and as-needed basis. Therapists assumed a supportive role, while prioritizing students’ mental health.  Combined with individual therapy sessions, clinicians offered twice weekly group counseling sessions by age group and area of needs.  In situations where students were emotionally unable to adjust well to the stressful conditions of these unprecedented days, our clinicians, following CDC guidelines, paid visits to student homes, offering intense therapeutic support to the students and their families.

Maintaining the Social Element for Students Via an Online Environment

The third need we addressed centered on the creation of opportunities for our students to maintain social interaction with each other. Facilitated by staff clinicians, students were offered the chance to participate in a weekly scheduled virtual social hour. This allowed students the chance to “visit” with each other while maintaining regular social interaction.

Parent Support

The final critical need we identified was the continued offering of support to the parents of our students, enabling them to encourage their children to continue with their educational/therapeutic process. Parents were advised to have their children maintain a home schedule that paralleled the school schedule as closely as possible, avoiding excessive downtime while at home. Parents were also instructed to document and report to our staff therapists any student behaviors of concern. In turn, the clinicians reached out to these parents and students, offering guidance in exploring ways to ensure the continued mental stability of the students.