Camelot’s Elementary Program Gets Help from Philadelphia Medical College

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Executive Director Brian Bienkowski and Program Director Carolyn Abele (left) along with PCOM Assistant Professor Amanda Lannie (right) get silly with kids at Camelot KAPS.

Camelot is always searching for more effective ways to help students who could not succeed in the regular classroom overcome their obstacles and excel. Most of that work in Camelot’s alternative education programs has been with high school and middle school age students. But in recent years Camelot has been helping the little guys, elementary school children, who need extra social and emotional support that are impeding their progress.

The KAPS (K-7 Alternative Pupil Services) program in Philadelphia now serves 108 students. Similar programs are up and running in Camden, NJ and Pensacola, FL, and there are plans for more as school districts and charter networks try to intervene and correct issues while children are in the early grades.

The KAPS program in Philadelphia has had a partner for over a year now in perfecting its program, the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM).

”We asked PCOM to come in and look really closely at our behavior management system and reinforcement schedule to make recommendations on how we could improve, update and tighten up the way things were working here,” said KAPS executive director Brian Bienkowski.

There are tenets that drive all Camelot programs in all grades. For example, all programs reinforce good behavior using a rating system to encourage students to want to do the right thing because they get more privileges and rewards as they work their way up the scale.

But Camelot’s leadership felt it needed more expertise to make its system as relevant as possible for elementary school students.

“When KAPS first started we were the first elementary program in Camelot’s alternative education network,” said KAPS program manager Carolyn Abele, whose background is in psychology as a licensed professional counselor. “We had to adapt a lot of the Camelot practices but not all of them worked with kindergarteners with severe mental health issues and we had to find a way to do better for those kids. The experts from PCOM provided the answers.”

The PCOM team consists of the Director of School of Psychology program, two assistant professors and a doctoral student plus a doctor from the pediatric behavior and neuro-developmental clinic.

“They spent a lot of time with us last year, learning anything they could about the school. We met with them over the summer to be ready for the new school year. During the school year we meet once a month to review our data and survey staff. In fact, recently they have been here almost every day, conducting a study on whether we’re true in our implementation of this positive behavior program,” Abele said.

Children are assigned to KAPS for a multitude of reasons but generally a failure to be productive in their sending school, mainly because behaviors are impeding their learning.

“They need a higher level of support than a regular classroom can offer,” Bienkowski said. “The sending school will first try a different reinforcement schedule where a student is earning things more often than the rest of the classroom. They might get extra breaks. They might get an amended schedule. They try to increase the amount of positive feedback for the child or his or her work-to-play ratio. When they exhaust those efforts and don’t get the student on track they enroll the student with us.”

The Philadelphia campus now serves as a training site when Camelot opens a new KAPS program elsewhere. The whole team from the new Pensacola program spent several days in Philadelphia learning the system and seeing best practices, which PCOM helped KAPS develop.

“The training from PCOM removes a lot discretionary efforts and makes our work with students more guideline-driven,” Bienkowski said.  “We develop lesson plans for how we expect to interact with various behaviors. It ensures the integrity of our vision and actions across all classrooms so as a child moves from one classroom to another, things look exactly the same and we are delivering the same ideas.”

“I can’t say enough good things about PCOM; they are so supportive,” Abele said. “They all have so much knowledge. They’ve been in bigger schools, smaller schools, alternative schools. Any time we’ve had a question or staff asks me a question and I’m not quite sure of the answer, the PCOM team answers the phone or email. They have helped us standardize the way we teach and our kids are benefiting.”

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