Parents, students and administrators believe program is working
by Gary Hanner
Jun 15, 2012 | 1248 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Case worker Matt Whittington listens as a student talks to him during one of their sessions.
Case worker Matt Whittington listens as a student talks to him during one of their sessions.
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Many Turner said the Safe Schools Healthy Students program helped her son Tyler in many ways.
Many Turner said the Safe Schools Healthy Students program helped her son Tyler in many ways.
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In July 2008, the St. Clair County School System was awarded $1.5 million grant to initiate a program called Safe Schools Healthy Students.

After data was compiled, it was determined that the schools in Odenville would be where the program needed to start.

Getting started

DeAna Byrd was hired by the school system to direct this program. In July 2009, goals for the program were implemented and three months later, a contract was signed with the JBS (Jefferson, Blount, and St. Clair) Mental Health Authority.

Therapist began in January 2010, and case managers began in February 2010.

Byrd said there are two case managers, a therapist, and two psychiatrists who work with students and families in the Odenville community.

Students must be diagnosed with an Axis I diagnosis (all psychiatric disorders) in order to receive services (examples of Axis I diagnosis are ADHD and depression).

Case managers and therapists work with the students in home, school, and community environments. Psychiatrists come to school once a month on different days.

During the summer, there is summer program where all the St. Clair County sites from JBS come together and lead social skills groups with their clients.

Examples are going to a park to do recreational activities and therapy groups; go to the McWane Center, or the Birmingham Zoo.

Mother speaks out

One parent who said Safe Schools was good for her son is Mandy Turner. Her son, Tyler, is 14 years old and just finished the eighth grade at Odenville Middle School. Come August, he will start his first year at St. Clair County High School.

Tyler started his education career in Springville and went from kindergarten through the last semester of the sixth grade.

“He completed the sixth grade here at Odenville Middle School,” Mandy Turner said. “The reason he transferred to Odenville is because we moved from Springville to Odenville.”

Ms. Turner said she and Tyler started having problems in the seventh grade.

“Seventh grade proved to be real difficult for him,” she said. “There were a few struggles at Springville, but nothing big enough for me to cry out for help. I cried out for help while he was in the seventh grade.”

Ms. Turner said Tyler’s pediatrician had actually diagnosed him with ADHD in about the fourth grade, but she was not comfortable medicating him.

“I really did not think throwing him on medicine was going be something to solve the problem,” she said. “I asked for some counseling options to go along with the medications, but his pediatrician said that was not an option.”

Once Tyler hit the seventh grade, the problems became worse.

“Behavior became an issue,” Ms. Turner said. “Along with it, a slip in his grades. Now his behavior at home was wonderful. I really do believe it was just a lack of focus. I never believed the ADHD was a real problem until I actually got to my wits end with it. I really didn’t believe it could affect people the way people were telling me. I thought the problem was Tyler settling in to a new school, the re-adjusting, meeting new friends, and new teachers. I never had to move as a kid, so I thought this was traumatic for a child.”

Ms. Turner said the reason she sought out the program was because she did not know how to fix her sons’ grades.

“I was constantly communicating with his teachers on a daily basis,” she said. “I knew them all on a first name basis.”

Safe Schools

Ms. Turner said another parent told her about the Safe Schools Program. She called OMS and talked to principal Debra Carroll about it.

“She told me the program would be good for Tyler,” Ms. Turner said. “I was contacted, and a representative came out and did a home study. We then met Matt Whittington, his caseworker. I then met Dr. Tommy Vaughan, his psychiatrist, and he asked me how I would feel putting Tyler on medication. I told him I had been uncomfortable with it in the past, but I was just at my wits end. I didn’t know what else to do, didn’t know where else to turn. I was willing to try anything, because I was at the point of frustration.”

Ms. Turner said it made her feel more comfortable, because she was not doing this alone.

“I felt like I had a team set up to help him,” she said. “I was just not putting my kid on medication, I had a team of people helping us. He met weekly with them, and sometimes daily. Matt was at our beckon call. I had a whole team of people helping me monitor him on the medication. I didn’t know what to look for, if I was experiencing issues.”

Tyler talks

Tyler said there was a lot of peer pressure.

“I enjoyed messing around in front of my friends, wanting to be the class clown, and the center of attention,” Tyler said. “I was all for my mom seeking help for me. It seemed like it was helping me, and I saw where it was helping other people.”

Tyler said the one area the program helped him the most is focus.

“Focusing more on my grades than I was other things,” he said. “It took my mind off certain things that really didn’t matter any longer. It became important to me to make good grades. When I brought my first good grade home on my report card, I saw how it made people happy and how proud they were of me. That drove me to keep doing better. Matt and everyone else supported me, and that gave me motivation.”

Tyler said those people who lead Safe Schools are wonderful.

“They were always positive, and always had good things to say,” Tyler said. “They were encouragers and encouraged us to get better and better.”

Even when school was out for the summer, there were summer programs Tyler and others could attend.

Had it not been for Safe Schools, Tyler believes he would still be stuck in the seventh grade for the third year in a row.

Today

Now that Tyler is no longer in the program, he sees his pediatrician once every two months.

“It really was a God-send for us,” Ms. Turner said. “Tyler went from failing, and he did fail the seventh grade. The next year, Tyler was an honor roll student the entire year. He did not get into any trouble. He did a 180, which was completely different. He did not spend the first day in detention.”

Ms. Turner said Safe Schools was a positive experience for her, because it turned Tyler’s world around.

“Sometimes it takes someone other than a parent, and Matt was that person,” Ms. Turner said. “Matt was there for Tyler. I tried encouraging, bribing, and taking everything away from him. It didn’t work. Matt is a friend from now on until Tyler gets through high school. As long as Matt is around, I know he will be there for Tyler.”

Administrator’s point of view

Odenville Intermediate School principal Constance Seymour said the Safe Schools Healthy Students program is a positive and supportive influence for students and families.

“The program has been an excellent resource for the students and their families,” Seymour said. “I look forward to the continued growth and development of this spectacular program.”

Diamond Buckhanon

One other student who did not mind talking about going through the Safe Schools program was Diamond Buckhanon, who starts her senior year at St. Clair County High School this fall.

“It was so very important for me to go through this because it made me a better person,” Buckhanon said. “It also taught me more responsibility.”

Buckhanon said she met with leaders of the program once a week for nine to 10 months. Today, she believes she is a better person than she was a year ago. She admits there were problems with her mom because she always has talked back.

“I don’t talk back as much as I once did,” she said. “I have more patience, especially with my mom, and that makes things better at home. I’m doing a little better with my friends, and I am doing so much better in the classroom. My grades are up. Meeting with counselors has helped me so much.”

Editor’s note: The St. Clair Times approached the families about being in the article, and the families represented in this article chose to waive their right to confidentiality due to the compassion for the Safe Schools Initiative.

Contact Gary Hanner at ghanner@thestclairtimes.com.

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