by Sami Butler, RN
As I walk down the halls of Intermountain school on our residential campus in Helena, I am struck by how creative and passionate our teachers are about providing a safe, fun and stimulating academic environment in which to learn. Many children who come to Intermountain have not found school to be a rewarding experience, socially or academically.
My first stop is the music room where I experience children playing ukuleles and percussion instruments as they practice for the holiday program. I see a 10 year old boy who entered the residential program struggling with fine motor movements and inability finding chords on the ukulele that resulted in frustration and anger. Today, with consistent encouragement from his music teacher Heather, and occupational therapy, he flashes me a grin as I nod to the rhythm of his bright red string instrument. I get to witness the pride and self-esteem boost that comes with accomplishing a musical task.
I peek into the littles class and find ten children engaged in the lesson taught by teacher, Kathleen. One of the successful projects this year was to write to soldiers serving our country. These students can identify with the soldiers in that they are also away from their families and show empathy in their notes of encouragement.
This year, Kathleen’s class adopted a wild mustang from the Pryor Mountain Mustang Reserve during the unit on the history of horses. The students learned about the behavior of wild horses and how behavior affects others whether you are a horse or a person.
When I ask a child about a highlight in her class this year, she says “our Easter egg was chosen by the President!” Each state was given the opportunity to send in an Easter egg design. The design from this K-3 class was chosen out of all Montana schools to represent our state at the White House. What fun!
Kathleen will have some new students entering her class in January. Her hope for 2019 is that the new students can learn social skills, form healthy relationships, have a sense of belonging and ownership, and build a strong community in her classroom. And she is up for the challenge!
Next stop – Lianne’s classroom of 5th and 6th graders. She says a success for 2018 is having developed a solid morning routine that students are capable of following. The expectations are clear, and this helps students start the day more regulated and helps make the transition from cottage to school smoother.
I pop into the 6-8th grade class and observe some students working independently and others in small groups working together on a project. Teacher Abraham reflects, “I think the most inspiring accomplishment that we’ve witnessed in our class over this past year is our students’ considerable growth in confidence. We see this change in confidence academically when students realize that they can work independently on an assignment or learn to accept feedback from an adult with an academic task. More significantly, we have seen students learn to recognize their emotions and understand how to successfully manage them, or have the confidence to ask an adult to help them do so. This increase in confidence displays itself in better grades, stronger relationships with peers and adults, and improved composure in stressful situations, and is truly inspiring to witness.”
I smile and move on to the class of 3-4th graders where I am invited to join in an activation game. What a pleasure to interact with students as racquet balls fly across the room and laughter and encouragement occurs as I drop a ball. Afterwards, the desks are moved back in place and I ask the teacher, Kathy about success in her classroom during 2018. “It is difficult to define success in the classroom, especially in a Residential Treatment Center. Mostly because the students who come to our program have not experienced success in the areas that matter most in life such as; social skills, academic growth, being able to self-monitor behavior and school work. I have watched every one of my students grow in all three areas. It is joy to watch students begin to take risks on challenging tasks, initiate and maintain friendships, accept difficult feedback and mentoring around unhealthy choices and mostly begin to trust that they are competent and valued. They have learned they can achieve success by becoming less dependent on adults and more confident in their own ability to sets goals and meet them. My students have an end of the day self-reflection where they can assess whether, or not they were able to be safe with their body and words, responsible with school work, and respectful in their interactions with both peers and adults. This allows them to take ownership of their school day and visually see their personal growth with a sticker chart. By the end of treatment, the student can see that the reward really isn’t a sticker, or a positive reward, but rather it is an intrinsic one of feeling good about their daily choices and hard work.”
And what about your hope for 2019, I query? “I hope that the classroom will be an engaging, challenging and rewarding environment that students want to come to everyday. Also, that each child discovers how they are smart. Whether that is in math, interpersonal relationships, nature, athletics, all kids have gifts and talents they possess, so it is just a matter of getting to know each student both academically and emotionally. One of my favorite quotes that I keep in my desk is by Michelangelo. ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ I find being a teacher is a very similar process of carving away the unhealthy patterns, or beliefs in a child’s life and helping to bring out his/her value that was already there from the beginning until the end result is nothing less than a beautiful masterpiece of a child being free to make mistakes, learn from them and have hope for a positive future.”
I walk back to my office with gratitude for the dedication and skills of our education team and a sense of pride for the progress our students have made in 2018. Desmond Tutu once said, “When we see the face of a child, we think of the future. We think of their dreams, about what they might become, and what they might accomplish.”
Sami Butler, RN, is the Professional Relations Manager for the Residential Program. Prior to working at Intermountain for past 15 years, she was the Executive Director of the Montana Nurses Association and worked as an intensive care nurse for nearly two decades.