Camden KAPS – Helping Students Overcome Trauma
Students at Camelot’s KAPS (K–8 Adaptive Pupil Services) program in Camden, NJ, have one overriding trait in common. “They all have had a lot of trauma,” says program director Megan Habbershon.
“Our students have dealt with the loss of a parent or an incarcerated parent or a foster care situation, huge life events that have impacted their day to day functioning in school.”
Camden KAPS, which opened in March 2015, supports those students in a smaller classroom setting while still providing the same education they would receive in their regular school. And those standards are high. Their students are referred by the highly regarded Mastery Charter School network in Camden.
Habbershon, who has a master’s degree in social work from Widener University and previously worked in in-home family therapy, says her students feel safe because the school is small and structured.
“Some of my students that have been through trauma are triggered by the large cafeteria of a regular size school or the large gym or a lot of kids in their classroom. They just feel more comfortable here,” she said.
The students have all been determined to need emotional support. They all have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).
The structure students receive is a big factor in their success. Camden KAPS has small classroom settings with two staff members in each room and then additional staff that can come in to support them. The school has social workers and interns that can be called in as support in an instant if a situation calls for that. Students work in groups of 3-4.
Whether a child comes to Camelot Camden KAPS in 1st grade or high school, the ultimate goal is to restore the student to his or her regular school. Habbershon pointed to an 8th-grade female student who arrived at Camelot with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and who is now back doing well in her regular school.
“She had a traumatic event in her life and was triggered by colors and noises and certain other things, and the traditional setting was just a little much with all that going on,” she said. “She was easily able to work in her small group. Automatically she felt more comfortable. There weren’t as many kids looking at her. There weren’t as many things to trigger her. And then we offered her counseling, including a special counselor who worked with her one-on-one on singing, which was one of her passions.”
The staff gave the student specific behavior goals and once she was able to meet those goals and cultivate some of her pro-social needs in a positive way staff put a transition plan in place. Now she has gone back. Camelot also arranged for outside services so the student has therapy support at home as well.
One of the hallmarks that have made Camelot so successful in helping students overcome challenges is the strong relationship the organization forms with each partner school district or charter school network. Mastery Charter now operates six schools in Camden so a student can be referred from any one of them.
“Our relationship with Mastery in Camden is amazing,” Habbershon says. “Their regional operations director supports our program at every turn. I talk to someone from each school daily and meet with them regularly to make sure we are all on the same page for every student. I couldn’t be happier. This is how it’s supposed to work.”