Watch the public hearing on Charles County Public Schools’ Fresh Start Academy that aired live on May 14, 2019.

 

What is Fresh Start Academy?
Fresh Start Academy is a regular Charles County Public Schools program for children in kindergarten to second grade who are unable to access the curriculum due to unsafe behavior. In some extreme cases, their actions may pose possible danger to themselves, other children and staff. Some of our youngest students are still developing the social and emotional skills to become successful students. We understand that all students learn these skills at different rates and we want every student to have an opportunity to learn the skills they need to be successful. Fresh Start is for those children who are still discovering how to adjust; it is not intended to be disciplinary in nature. Fresh Start will give our youngest learners the tools they need to access the curriculum and be successful. The annual cost for the Fresh Start Academy is estimated at $452,000.

Program components
The Fresh Start Academy provides academic, behavioral and counseling support to participating students. The program promotes a significant emphasis on the development of socio-emotional skills including emotional self-control, emotional perspective taking, problem solving, and sustained and controlled attention while maintaining pace with academic goals. Program components are research-based and developed with consideration of social and behavioral learning theory, the science of behavior analysis and developmental psychology. Fresh Start Academy teachers will provide students their grade-level instruction, including reading, math and specials such as physical education, music and art. Breakfast and hot lunch will be available for students as well as door-to-door transportation services.

How can students participate in the program?
Recommendations for placement at Fresh Start will be initiated by the Student Support Team at the school only after the school has exhausted all other options for school and classroom supports. This includes functional behavior assessments and behavior plans; a Student Support Team or SST plan; observations conducted by a school psychologist or behavior specialist; a modified classroom environment; and an analysis of data. Enrollment in the Fresh Start Academy is voluntary; parents interested in this option will work with an admissions team to determine whether or not the program is appropriate for their child.

Has the program changed since the initial proposal?
Before developing an alternative elementary program, CCPS researched other programs across the country and visited Maryland school systems with similar programs. We always expected that the program parameters could change after we hired key staff. The Fresh Start team includes a certified behavioral specialist, who is the program coordinator, a transition coordinator, two teachers and four instructional assistants. The transition coordinator will ensure children receive continued support at their home school when they return. Additionally, school psychologists and counselors will work with students attending the Academy.

The Fresh Start team has made three major changes to the program.

  • Students will be assessed at the initial 20-day mark and every 30 days thereafter. Assessment is based on a point and levels system.
  • Enrollment in the program is voluntary.
  • Renovation plans now include two-way observation windows for staff training purposes.


CCPS will continue to modify the program as needed to ensure that it meets the needs of students.

Why is the program located outside of the child’s home school?
Fresh Start Academy is a regular CCPS program. The program provides a smaller environment to help students who need more individualized instruction and therapeutic interventions. The program provides a low student-to-teacher ratio as well as specialized support from a behavior specialist. CCPS anticipates the program will start with a maximum of 10 students, making it cost prohibitive to include at 22 elementary schools, all of which might not have a student with a need for the program. A centralized program allows CCPS to combine its resources and serve all children who could benefit from Fresh Start.

Instead of Fresh Start, can you add the Aspire program to all schools?
It is not possible to add Aspire to all elementary schools. The Aspire program has been successful; 71 percent of students in the program have successfully transitioned back to their regular classrooms. Unfortunately, we do not have the classroom space or personnel to expand Aspire to all of our elementary schools. Even if we did, the overall cost to our taxpayers is estimated to be $4.4 million. Fresh Start Academy provides interventions that are not available through Aspire. Fresh Start provides students constant staff attention with a sensory room and other wrap-around services for both students and their parents. It also provides staff development and training for teachers.

How will students transition back to their home school?
Staff will develop an individual transition plan for each child when the child is ready to return to their home school. The transition coordinator will ensure children receive continued support at their home school by providing training to school administrators, teachers and staff on how to continue successful supports for the children. Staff from the home school will visit Fresh Start to keep a connection with the child and to learn techniques and strategies for reintegration to the classroom. Parents are an integral part of the program and will receive training to help their child and opportunities to work with Fresh Start staff.

Where will the program be located?
Fresh Start will be at the Robert D. Stethem Educational Center in Pomfret. The program will use the space previously occupied by the Lifelong Learning Center. The program space is in a separate building from the high school and middle school programs, and is located on the same campus as Dr. James Craik Elementary School. The building will include four classrooms, a workroom, a sensory room, administrative offices and a secure entrance/exit. Elementary students’ schedules do not overlap with the middle and high school students. They arrive at least an hour after the older students and leave at least an hour after dismissal of the older students. 

What is the Robert D. Stethem Educational Center?
The Robert D. Stethem Educational Center offers a number of programs for CCPS students. It is an alternative education center that serves students assigned there for discipline issues as well as students who opt into the program for its smaller class sizes and additional supports. Stethem also houses evening high school, the Virtual Academy and career-related courses for students exploring post-secondary options. Career classes include automotive technician, HVAC, interactive media, pharmacy technician and physical rehabilitation.