Kickemuit Middle School teachers: We need help (Video)

Teachers ask school committee for support in tackling school's behavioral health issues

By Ted Hayes
Posted 2/6/19

A long line of teachers stood before a packed audience in the Kickemuit Middle School auditorium Wednesday evening to tell the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee about the problems they and …

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Kickemuit Middle School teachers: We need help (Video)

Teachers ask school committee for support in tackling school's behavioral health issues

Posted

A long line of teachers stood before a packed audience in the Kickemuit Middle School auditorium Wednesday evening to tell the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee about the problems they and their students face every day, and how they think they can be resolved.

The teachers, who last Friday called in sick en masse to protest growing discipline problems at the school and what they believe is a lack of support from district administration as they try to address the school's issues, told committee members that the behavioral problems of a percentage of students are creating wide-ranging problems that have diminished the school — but can be resolved, they said, if the district takes the steps necessary to reduce class sizes, hire behavioral specialists and create programs to help troubled students.

"I worry for these students," said seventh-grade science teacher Jillian Schneider. "I want to help them. I want to talk to them. I want to give them my time. But I can't not teach (and) I can't do both."

"This is a major issue which has been in the making for years," said KMS science coordinator Pat Fillipino. "We're asking for the programs and personnel necessary to provide an environment for all students to learn. Let's talk. Let's listen."

Teachers said Wednesday that the behavioral problems the school is experiencing are on the rise. Over the past few years, they said, programs that previously helped address behavioral and emotional health problems with students have been discontinued. Teaching assistants have been let go, and the number of behavioral specialists reduced until they're stretched too thin to do an effective job.

The result has been troubling but predictable, they said: Students who otherwise would have received individualized help with their unique needs have instead been ignored, causing them to increase their unhealthy behaviors. In turn, teachers who used to spend the majority of their time teaching have instead been forced into the role of psychologist, compromising their ability to teach effectively and with the focus their students deserve. The result has been increasing incidents of violence, intimidation and student-to-student and student-to- teacher bullying, and a cascading effect that has cost all students, not just those with issues.

"We were a place that everyone wanted to be," said Kristina Pereira, a seventh-grade math teacher. "We have lost so much since then. We have lost an ALP (Alternative Learning Program) to support students with emotional disabilities. We've lost programs for students who had other types of needs. We lost team leaders; that's all gone."

"The problem is, as our programs and resources have been slashed, our problems have not gone away. The needs of our students have increased. The results, I see every day. There have been more physical altercations in the past three to four years than in my previous 13 years (of teaching) combined. It's starting to become an issue. The teachers are begging you for help. I'm begging you for help. Bring back the programs that worked."

"We must address all the needs of our students," added school nurse Erin Welchman. "We care for students with diabetes, asthma, seizure disorders ... mental health problems and exacerbation of their symptoms should not be any different. Don't let the increasing mental health needs and safety of our students become a victim of budget cuts. It needs to be at the top of our list."

Though many of the 12 teachers who spoke described different experiences, all agreed that increased financial support from the district to provide them with the tools they need to improve education at KMS for all students is essential.

Jennifer Saarinen, in her 14th year in the district, said three things are needed: Reduced class sizes, which now average 26 students; the addition of support professionals who have a background in adolescent psychology and childhood trauma; and the design and implementation of an ALP program that provides an academic support system with short-term and sustainable goals.

"Each one of my suggestions will in fact require additional funding or reallocation" of existing funds, she said, but must be done.

"What we have in place right now is not working," added social studies teacher Jeff Grifka. "It is our job ... to come together to make this happen."

Note: As of 8:30 p.m., the school committee was in closed session, discussing how to respond to teachers' request for more help with the school's issues. This story will be updated following the executive session.

Note: Video by Kayla Ebner

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