Summer program targets bad behavior among emotionally disturbed Oklahoma City schoolchildren

For once, the children — classified as emotionally disturbed by Oklahoma City Public Schools — got to play the hero instead of the villain.
by Tim Willert Published: July 11, 2014
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photo - Oklahoma City Public Schools students — classified as emotionally disturbed — are recognized Thursday at an assembly for acting appropriately instead of acting out. Photos by David McDaniel, The Oklahoman  David McDaniel
Oklahoma City Public Schools students — classified as emotionally disturbed — are recognized Thursday at an assembly for acting appropriately instead of acting out. Photos by David McDaniel, The Oklahoman David McDaniel

One by one, dozens of troubled children received colorful capes and masks and assumed new identities.

For once, the children — classified as emotionally disturbed by Oklahoma City Public Schools — got to play the hero instead of the villain.

Lacking in social skills and prone to outbursts, the children were being recognized for acting appropriately instead of acting out. It was the final day of a new program in the school district aimed at those with numerous suspensions or referrals to alternative schools.

“You’re superheroes of your own behavior,” Erin Trussell told the children during an assembly Thursday at Northwest Classen High School.

Behavior modification

About 50 special education students were invited to attend the monthlong program, which focused on teaching new behaviors to children who struggle with communication and take out their frustration on teachers or classmates.

“We wanted the kids who really needed a way to learn how to articulate how they feel and why they’re feeling this way and how they can fix it,” said Trussell, administrator of special services for Oklahoma City Public Schools.

“I think they have a hard time telling somebody what’s wrong because I don’t think they know. They just feel it, and then they act on it.”

Classes were small — about 10 students each — and were taught by certified special education teachers and social workers who used behavior modification methods to improve social skills.

A yoga instructor introduced children to deep breathing techniques they can use when feeling anxious or excited.

Therapy dogs and drums also were used to promote relaxation among students who come from abusive or neglectful homes and often resort to cussing and fighting to counter their anger.

“If your behavior, your emotions are out of control, then school is the last thing on your mind,” Trussell said.

“If you’re hungry or tired or had a bad morning, you’re not going to come to school ready to learn.”

In many cases, the children are mirroring the behavior of their parents, said Leondra Moore, a district social worker who participated in the summer program.

“These kids are living in environments where they are trauma-focused all the time,” Moore said.

“You bring the parent in, and you understand the child because there is just as much trauma and poor coping skills and problem-solving skills on the parent’s behalf.”

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by Tim Willert
Education Reporter
Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers education. Prior to moving to Oklahoma in June 2011, he was as an editor for FOXSports.com in Century City, Calif., and reported on courts for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and...
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