Sunday, October 16, 2011

Observation at Renaissance School

When I was a kid, there was a school in my town called Renaissance Care Center. It was kind of in a run down building on the edge of town. I always heard it was a school for kids with behavioral disorders. But although, as I got older, I had many friends who were in, or had been in, "BD," and had even attended special schools, I never knew anyone who went to Renaissance. When I became an adult and started looking for places to work, I was warned against applying for any jobs at Renaissance. It was said to be a school for "the worst of the worst." I was told that the police were always there, and that the teachers there were known for improperly restraining out of control kids and even abusing them.

So, when I got the news that I was going to be observing at Renaissance this semester, I was a little nervous!

When I mentioned it to others in my class, they made horrified faces like, "Oh, no, Renaissance? Really? Be careful!"

It turned out that Renaissance is actually a company that runs multiple schools for special needs, in various states. The Renaissance School in my town is no longer listed on the company's website, and I think it may have been shut down. The Renaissance School I was assigned to go to was in a neighborhing town. Still, I was a little nervous. Until I got there!

I was greeted by the principal, a friendly lady who gave me a tour of the school. She seemed proud of it as she showed me every classroom, explained the school-wide behavioral support system, talked about all of their special events and field trips, etc. Instead of a Time Out room, they have a small room with no door, painted to look like the inside of a fish bowl. Kids can go there to just chill out, instead of as a punishment. The kids who are on the highest level and have the most responsibility have their own clubhouse, a room where they can watch TV and play video games during their free time. They even have a stable with horses for therapeutic riding, and a dog and a cat who take turns spending days at the school for pet therapy!

As we walked around the school, I saw lots of artwork and colorful posters. In one classroom, a wall was decorated to look like a game board. Kids could move their markers one space on the board whenever they turned in their homework. When they landed on pink spaces, they got small prizes or privileges. When they completed the entire "game," they won a gift certificate!

In most of the classrooms, the kids were cheerful and said "hi" to me. In the hallway, a teenaged boy came up, shook my hand, and said, "Hi, I'm Matt! Nice to meet you!"

Finally, the principal asked me which room I'd like to observe in. I chose the youngest room, which was mostly for children with autism. I figure, I'll move to the older rooms when I go back. In the room I was in, there were only about five children, and each one was working with his own teacher or aide. One first grade boy was being observed by a teacher from his home school district, to decide if he was ready to transition to his home school's somewhat less restrictive classroom for children with autism. I watched as the boy's teachers from Renaissance asked the prospective new teacher tons of questions about her classroom. They wanted to know, would he have some extra support when he first started in order to make the transition easier? Would he have breaks throughout the day? Would there be anyone willing to take him for walks in the hallways if he needed them? What kinds of therapies were offered? Would he eat lunch in the cafeteria with the entire school, or in the classroom? Would there be someone to help the children with autism at lunch, or would he be on his own on the playground? It seemed like these teachers wanted to be very sure about letting the little boy move on to a new setting. They discussed how, since this boy was doing so well at Renaissance and was probably capable of succeeding at the home school, he should be given the chance to do so, but at the same time, he'd still need a lot of support and they wanted him to have it no matter where he went to school. I've seen situations where teachers were eager to convince a prospective new teacher that a student was ready to transition, because they just wanted one less student to worry about. This was definitely not the case here! The teachers felt like the boy's future success in a new classroom was as much their responsibility as his past success in their classroom had been.

I no longer feel nervous or worried about doing my observations at Renaissance School. In fact, I've added this school to my list of prospective schools to send my resume to, once I graduate. I guess the moral of this story is, never believe anything you hear about a school, until you see it for yourself.

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