By Floyd Jernigan
Nevada Daily Mail
Educational success can be a challenge for some students.
Their background, motivation, health and environment all play a factor.
Yet, that success can be even more of a stretch when the youth is dealing with emotional or behavioral issues or has become trapped in the web of substance abuse.
There is an option -- with a team of educators working to help students overcome those challenges.
The Nevada R-V School at Heartland Behavioral Health Services located at the campus on West Ashland offers just such an option.
The onsite public school shares the building with the Heartland operation, both of which are housed in the former St. Francis Academy convent, orphanage and preschool location.
Although separate systems, the school and Heartland operate jointly in an effort to provide a well rounded, balanced approach to helping troubled youth.
Nevada R-5 at Heartland Principal Michelle Branham is in her third year as Director of Education, following a three-year stint as assistant. Previously, she was the Core -- Data Coordinator for the district and an eighth-grade science teacher at Nevada Middle School.
According to Branham, the school district rents the building from Heartland.
"We have an open line of communication with Heartland. We meet monthly with the clinical teams to go over issues on the educational side. We really keep aware of what's going on in both environments," she said.
"We also provide professional development for our staff to utilize the same language and techniques as Heartland. We have a very good relationship."
Resident referrals come from family services, the state children's division, and multiple school systems from several states.
Students currently attend from the Bahamas, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, California, Iowa and Nebraska through various state and private agencies.
"We're one of the only Tricare-approved facilities for military families," said Branham.
In the last two weeks, Branham noted the school had received a sharp rise in student admissions. As of mid-December, the school had 76 enrolled.
"The main thing we're focused on, as a school, is not why the kids are here, but that we can help make things different for them so that their in-class experience is successful," she said.
The school staff consists of seven teachers, eight paraprofessionals, a secretary and a director.
"With our smaller enrollment, we get to know the kids. We develop a rapport and the relationships required to get the success we want."
Students in grades two through 12 attend a full day of school from 8:05 a.m. to 2:19 p.m., in what functions as seven, one-room schoolhouses.
Because of the individual ages and varying levels of education, "We're working with kids at different levels in all classrooms," said Branham.
"We have a great staff that is knowledgeable in their content area and that works with the students on their challenges."
"Once here, the students love it. And that's the same with the staff. We often end up hiring a lot of our substitutes."
The staff uses a variety of incentives and approaches to help the students.
The primary model is the Positive Behavior Intervention Support system, focusing on the motto, "Be safe, be respectful, be responsible and be our best."
"Using PBIS and lots of positive rewards, students achieve success. They need to see a huge turnaround and they do," she said.
There is also the Tiger Bucks program, where students earn points for good behavior, community service and student achievement. Those points are deposited into a mock checking account for each student, who can then spend money at the school store. Many of the purchases are for basic necessities.
Students may also be part of the Breakfast Club. Once a month, the students may cook with the educational staff. This typically encompasses about 12 students. Additionally, they can have lunch with the staff, or enjoy a 15-minute break with the staff.
Students who are successful in the on-site school are sometimes recommended for attendance at the off-site public schools in the district. Many are involved in a variety of programs off site, including child development courses, culinary arts, ROTC, drama, athletics, and other course work at the Nevada Regional Technology Center.
There are service projects and community outreach efforts, including helping with Shop With A Cop, and Toys For Tots. Students made cookies, candy and goodies for a recent silent auction to raise money for those programs. Students in the Life skills class donated $225 to Shop with a Cop this year from that activity.
"Our life skills class works on one service project a month to give of their time," said Branham. "The kids love to help. We stress the importance of not always being able to give monetarily, but we can always support organizations with our time and service."
All those efforts go toward helping the students earn credit to graduate/return to their home schools. The average time spent at the school varies. "We have a few short-term programs, but generally students are with us for three to 18 months," Branham said.
That transition occurs toward the end of treatment, as students then attend their off-site schools, usually the last quarter or semester. For a period, they may attend both schools at first. The students are typically discharged at natural breaks in school, such as the semester change, depending on the decision of their therapeutic team and the progress they've made in treatment and educationally.
At the end of the day, it's all about gaining confidence for the students through achieving educational success.
"So many kids can't control their circumstances because of the environment they're coming from," summed up Branham. "So many control education in a negative manner because it is the one thing they have influence on. We want them to see they can control their education in a positive way."
The Nevada R-5 School at Heartland is hosting the Nevada Board of Education work session Jan. 9, with a tour of the facility and a time to meet with the staff at 6 p.m., and welcoming all visitors.