Camelot’s Delco Academy uses Dialectical Behavioral Therapy to Help Students Focus on Positivity
Since opening in 2017, Camelot Education’s Delco Academy in Delaware County, PA has practiced a holistic approach to education that focuses on the intellectual, emotional, and social growth of each student. To strengthen the program even further this year, the school welcomed Rachel Schwind, a middle school special education teacher with extensive experience in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.
DBT is made up of four major skills modules: Mindfulness Skills, Emotion Regulation Skills, Distress Tolerance Skills, and Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills. The overall goal of using DBT skills is to help increase resilience and create positive thinking patterns. Skills teach individuals how to live in the moment, accept reality as it is, and how to change unwanted behaviors, emotions, and thoughts.
“I became fascinated with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) in college during my Introduction to Psychology and Child Psychology class,” Schwind said. “After doing extensive research on DBT, I wanted to learn more and gain personal experience. I met with the therapist who runs a DBT clinic in Philadelphia. I sat in on support groups five days a week for several months and spent time after the groups with the lead therapist to analyze clients’ thoughts and behaviors. After experiencing DBT through a patient’s point of view, I started co-leading two support groups a day for teens and young adults. After a few weeks of co-leading, I took control as the main facilitator and have been volunteering since 2016. I have been using DBT in the classroom with students ranging from grades K-8 in Philadelphia, Downingtown, West Chester, and now in Collingdale at Delco Academy.”
Camelot Education’s Delco Academy is responsible for educating students with not only diverse learning backgrounds but often multiple diagnoses and classifications that require a truly individualized approach. The school serves students from Southeast Delco School District in grades K-12 who are experiencing emotional, behavioral, and academic challenges. Students are provided smaller classes and more individual attention in a nurturing environment so that they may achieve success.
Schwind, a certified special education teacher, incorporates a combination of DBT and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a common type of talk therapy, into her classrooms and lesson plans.
“At the beginning of the day during townhouse (Camelot Education’s morning assembly of students), we review what mindfulness is and its purpose,” she said. ”We talk about things we can and cannot control, as well as what we value in life and why. Students spent the first day of school identifying their values through a value sort activity. We discuss how, at every given moment, people are having an experience.”
Schwind said students understand they cannot control their automatic thoughts, other people, emotions, physical sensations, the past, the future, certain circumstances, and situations. They understand they can control their intentional thoughts and behaviors. By understanding and investing energy into the areas they can control, then they will be able to positively influence the areas they cannot control.
“We also discuss how our experiences are either going to move us towards the things we value or move us away from what we value and be less helpful in the long run.”
Delco Academy students keep a diagram in their binder that explains mindfulness as well as a list of skills that they add to every day.
“We role-play circumstances and walk through how students could use their skills in those moments,” Schwind said. “We stop and practice mindfulness for brain breaks throughout the school day. Students are encouraged to use their skills as much as possible. I model how I use my skills throughout the day by explaining my thought process. I prompt students to use skills in the moment when I can see them getting upset or agitated. We review how the day went during the afternoon townhouse by doing a mindfulness practice and naming what we are G.L.A.D about: something we are grateful for, something we learned, something that made us feel accomplished, and something that brought us delight. Students also take time at the end of the day to reflect on their helpful and less helpful decisions and behaviors. Through daily reflections, we analyze how the day went and how we can use our skills to help improve the following day.”
The school’s principal, Catherine Menow, and clinical director, Simone Golden, have worked to formulate a model that is blended not only in name, but in practice. This involves the academic, clinical, and behavioral aspects of the program. Golden credits Rachel Schwind for adding her expertise to the school’s mix of therapeutic services.
“Students have reacted very positively toward her approach and have shown enthusiasm when it comes to learning these new skills,” she said.
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