Academics at Cedarhurst
Students attending Cedarhurst are working to meet the requirements of their referring school districts.
Two types of classroom settings are available to students at Cedarhurst. Our mainstream program most closely emulates a regular high school setting. Students move from class to class for different subjects with different teachers over the course of periods in the day. The self-contained program is available for those students who need more intensive academic and behavioral supports. There is a teacher’s assistant available in the self-contained classrooms and in both settings the class size is small. The curriculum is designed using the Connecticut Core Standards and meets with state approval. Our staff communicates regularly with personnel from referring districts to ensure the appropriate credits are received to meet graduation requirements.
Middle School Program
There is a separate middle school curriculum which prepares students for the demands of high school including improved study skills and increases in homework.
High School Program
Students in the high school program who are college bound are scheduled in college prep courses with a full range of classes including higher Math and Sciences such as Algebra I & II, Advanced Math, Statistics, SAT/ACT Preparation, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Electives such as Psychology, French, Spanish, History through Film, Art and Creative Writing round out class offerings. High School seniors may be eligible to attend a college course at Albertus Magnus College or Gateway Community College in the Spring semester with support from Cedarhurst staff.
Students preparing for a job or vocational career upon high school graduation may be placed on the Career track exploring programs for training in a field of their choice using Career Cruising which is an online, in depth career profile and research tool.
Transition services are available to meet individual needs in the areas of education, self advocacy skills, and community and functional living skills. Cedarhurst works closely with referring districts and families to prepare students for transitions back to their home schools (when appropriate), as well as to vocational training programs, post-secondary education and the world of work.
Characteristics of the Therapeutic Program
Supportive groups meet twice a week. Students are enrolled in two groups at a time.
Skill-acquisition groups address:
- impulse management
- mood management (such as anxiety, depression and anger)
- stress management
- problem solving
- social skills
- conflict resolution
- adolescent developmental issues
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
The purpose of DBT is to learn and practice new tools (new ways of thinking, feeling and doing things) in place of old ways (impulsive, self-destructive, self-defeating behaviors) that are associated with unhappiness and distress.
DBT is presented in four modules throughout the year. Each module teaches specific skill sets. In mindfulness, students learn tools for taking control of the thoughts and impulses that drive negative emotions. In distress tolerance, students learn skills to decrease impulsivity. In emotion regulation, students learn skills which lead to more even tempered moods and emotions and in interpersonal effectiveness, students learn how to negotiate relationships so as to decrease conflict and misunderstanding.
Adapted from Linehan, M.M., Ph.D. (1993), New York: Guilford.
Other groups include:
- Coping Skills
- Recreation Group
- Therapeutic Activity Group
- Student Council
- Art Therapy
- Digital Photography
Students at Cedarhurst are assigned a clinical social worker with whom they work closely to achieve social and emotional goals as reflected in the IEP.
Individual crisis intervention is provided by clinical staff as needed to address obstacles to school functioning.
Social workers also work closely with external treaters and agencies involved in students' care, as well as with parents and care givers.
Positive Behavioral Support (PBS)
At the Cedarhurst School we have implemented a school-wide positive behavioral support (PBS) model as the basis of our disciplinary and behavioral management approach. This model emphasizes school-wide systems of support that include proactive strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behaviors to create a positive school environment. This is in contrast to a reactive system of discipline based on punishment. Instead of using a patchwork of individual behavioral management plans, a continuum of positive behavior support for all students within the school is implemented in areas including the classroom and non-classroom settings (such as hallways, restrooms). Attention is focused on creating and sustaining primary (school-wide), secondary (classroom), and tertiary (individual) systems of support that improve the quality of the school environment by making problem behavior less effective, efficient, and relevant, and desired (adaptive/pro-social) behavior more functional.
A level system, in which students achieve levels that come with increasing responsibility, privileges and independence, is the foundation of our PBS model. Levels are determined by points that students earn throughout the day in each of three positively stated and taught expectations. Thus, levels are determined in an objective and clearly specified manner, so that students know where they stand at all times. They are also able to use their point cards, which they carry from class to class, as a data tool that clearly spells out how they are doing, where they need support (e.g. a specific time of day, a specific type of behavior) and where they are successful. This information is used by teachers and support staff in helping students to set goals, develop skills and maintain success.
"Catch You Doing Good"
One component of our positive behavioral support model, at the primary support level, is a ticket system. Tickets are used to reward, and thus reinforce, positive behavior. These tickets can be exchanged for a variety of desirable items or privileges. Catch you Doing Good is a social learning intervention focused on increasing/strengthening coping skills, social skills, academic success, increasing a sense of control over behaviors and encouraging/rewarding good choices.
Tickets are pre-printed with the three basic expectations for student behavior that are posted, taught and reinforced in every area of the school: Safety, Responsibility and Respect. Students are given a ticket when they engage in a behavior or make a choice that is consistent with one of the three basic expectations. Behaviors that will be recognized/reinforced with tickets include holding a door for another person, standing up for a peer, being helpful, making positive statements, completing a demanding or difficult academic task or productively managing a conflict or difficult situation.
Tickets are meant to be reinforcing in two ways. First, they are an immediate recognition of and intrinsic reward for desirable behavior. Second, they can be exchanged for "purchase" of a variety of rewards including food items and special meals, excursions out of the building, tangible items and services at "ticket auctions," and school-related items at the school store. This list is not exhaustive and is continually added to so as to increase the desirability of, and thus motivation for, earning tickets.
In addition to the reward value of tickets, they are utilized as a means of obtaining and tracking data related to individual students’ goals as well as staff performance goals around the use of positive reinforcement tools. The current goal is to administer more positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement, at a ratio of at least 4:1, which we have consistently exceeded over the last eight years.
10th International Conference on Positive Behavior Support, San Diego
The PBS model at Cedarhurst School has been recognized as an exemplar of PBS implementation in an alternative school setting. As such, a team of teachers, clinicians and behavioral staff have presented our program at conferences throughout the country, including sessions at the National PBIS Leadership Forum in Chicago in 2013 and 2014.