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Herkimer BOCES Pathways Academy at Remington
providing local struggling students another chance

Oct. 17, 2017




Pathways Academy licensed mental health counselor Michele Paladino and student Adah Howard talk to each other
Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Pathways Academy at Remington student Adah Howard, 16, of Central Valley, speaks with Pathways Academy licensed mental health counselor Michele Paladino on Thursday, Oct. 12, in Paladino’s office in the former Remington Elementary School building.



Student Adah Howard’s struggles with succeeding in her school environment when she was at Ilion Central School District became all the more challenging for her when the Ilion and Mohawk school districts merged to form Central Valley starting in fall 2013.

Among the other difficulties she faced, she had a hard time handling all the new students around. About halfway through that 2013-14 school year, she was essentially kicked out of Central Valley as a seventh-grader for how she was dealing with her issues.

She, however, had a landing spot.

The Central Valley merger left the former Remington Elementary School building vacant, and the new Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Pathways Academy at Remington program moved into the building that same school year by renting it from Central Valley. The program was designed to help students such as Adah get back on track to graduation, so it created an opportunity for Central Valley to send her there.

Her schooling wasn’t all smooth from there, but four years later, Adah, 16, is now an 11th-grader at Pathways Academy who plans to get a four-year college degree in political science and then go on to law school.

Adah, who also attended elementary school in the Remington building, began to tear up as she recently talked about how her return to Remington helped her turn things around and get on a positive career path.

“I don’t actually know where I would be right now if I didn’t have this school,” she said.

Adah is just one example of the many students who have overcome difficulties by stepping away from their home school districts and attending the Herkimer BOCES Pathways Academy at Remington. During the 2015-16 school year, almost 160 school-aged children in alternative and special education programs went to school in the Remington building, and 475 adult students (including adult nursing, high school equivalency and literacy programs) did as well.

The future

Whether Herkimer BOCES programs including the Pathways Academy will remain in the Remington school building for the long-term is in question.

Residents of the Herkimer BOCES region will vote from noon to 8 p.m. on Nov. 14 on whether to approve Herkimer BOCES purchasing the former Remington Elementary School building from Central Valley.  The special vote is open to residents of the 10 Herkimer BOCES component school districts: Central Valley, Dolgeville, Frankfort-Schuyler, Herkimer, Little Falls, Mount Markham, Owen D. Young, Poland, Richfield Springs and West Canada Valley.

Central Valley residents will vote on both whether to sell the building to BOCES and whether BOCES should purchase the building. Residents of all other component districts will vote just on whether BOCES should purchase the building. Both authorizations would have to pass for the sale to be completed.

Voters will be asked to provide one form of proof of residency such as a driver's license, a non-driver identification card, a utility bill or a voter registration card. Voters also will be required to provide their signature and address. Voters who do not provide a proof of residence may be asked to sign a declaration in order to be allowed to vote.

The following are the voting locations for each school district:
  • Central Valley: Jarvis Media Center
     
  • Dolgeville: High School Lobby
     
  • Frankfort-Schuyler: Old Gymnasium
     
  • Herkimer: High School Library
     
  • Little Falls: Middle School Gymnasium
     
  • Mount Markham: Elementary Cafeteria
     
  • Owen D Young: Auditorium
     
  • Poland: Lobby
     
  • Richfield Springs: Entrance adjacent to baseball field
     
  • West Canada Valley: Front Lobby
For more information on the Remington building vote, click here.

‘Creating a community here’

The Pathways Academy at Remington houses the following student populations from Herkimer BOCES component school districts:
  • Students who struggle with their traditional school environment due to behavioral issues, mental health concerns or other reasons.
     
  • Special education students whose needs can be more fully met by pooling efforts at a regional level.
     
  • Students who are over-aged and under-credited with their academic credits.
The goal is to get all of them back on track to graduate, Pathways Academy Principal Jon Bryant said. When that happens, it’s to the benefit of the broader community and society, he said.

“The biggest struggle is bringing students in from all different districts and creating a community here,” he said.

Much progress has been made.

From when the Herkimer BOCES Pathways Academy opened in the Remington school building for the 2013-14 school year to the 2016-17 school year that was completed in June, there has been significant growth in the program – both in terms on enrollment and student success:
  • Student enrollment increased by more than 11 percent.
     
  • The number of students entering Pathways Academy with individualized education programs (IEPs), which are for students with behavioral issues, increased from 63 percent to 75 percent.
     
  • The credit accrual for ninth-graders increased from 57 percent to 70 percent.
     
  • The number of discipline referrals at Pathways – including in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions and other dispositions – dropped from 1,094 to 279.
     
  • Successful passing of Regents exams has increased – even in the past year. For example, in 2015-16, there were 20 students making first attempts at the Algebra I Regents exam, and three passed. In 2016-17, 18 students made their first attempts, and 11 passed.
“We have more students with needs, but they’re gaining more credits and they’re behaving better,” Bryant said, summing up the changes.

‘Taking ownership’

The reason for the improvement in student outcomes at Pathways Academy has been the establishment of a school community and culture at Remington through the use of mental health practices, Bryant said.

“We’ve embraced mental health,” he said.

Pathways Academy also works closely with Herkimer County services and Kids Oneida to help students.

“We focus on services and being proactive,” Bryant said.

One idea Pathways Academy utilizes is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), Pathways Academy licensed mental health counselor Michele Paladino said.

Each school year starts off with a week-long orientation activity, which includes teamwork and interaction among students, teachers and staff.

Students also are awarded “BOCES bucks” for positive behavior. Every other Friday is either a perk – such as pizza or ice cream – or a plaza, which is a store for using “BOCES bucks” to purchase items or experiences such as running a fire drill or raising the flag.

There also are larger, quarterly carnival events that students are able to participate in if they behave properly.
Paladino, who is now in her third year at Pathways, has seen the program result in happier students who feel like their concerns are being heard.

“They’re much more positive,” she said. “They’re much more interested in their academics.”

The result has been that students, who often felt abandoned or disappointed at their home schools or in other aspects of their lives, are now getting involved with planning school events and deciding on their own to make signs for the hallways, Paladino said.

“Rather than feeling like the land of misfit toys, they are taking ownership of this place and working to change the perception of Remington,” she said. “It is definitely becoming a home to our students. Students want this to be their school.”

Restorative justice

Pathways Academy also has been establishing restorative justice, which is a discipline process focused on repairing relationships and making things right. It helps students be involved with their own expectations and consequences.

“It does a lot more to change behavior than consequences alone,” Bryant said.

There are three steps to establishing restorative justice over the course of a few years, Paladino said. The first step is to establish a school culture and community and focus on positive relationships among staff and students, and Pathways Academy is mainly still working on this step, she said.

The second step is establishing a peer-to-peer culture of discipline, where peers hold each other accountable. The third step is victims and offenders meeting with a safe person present to work toward a resolution together.

Some of those next steps have already been started – such as therapeutic groups for peer conflicts and social issues. Some students who once wanted to fight each other now sit together at lunch and support each other, Paladino said.

Students also are starting to get involved with their own discipline. Students come up with suggestions for their own consequences, before Paladino and Bryant make the final decision. Students are starting to offer up apologies and positive resolutions more frequently.

“That’s them taking ownership of their discipline,” Paladino said.

‘Culture and climate’

Part of building the school community has been softening the relationship among students, staff and the principal. Nobody wears a tie anymore at Pathways – with teachers, staff and Bryant dressing more casually such as in polo shirts.

A morning forum also is now held in the cafeteria to start the school day, and all Pathways students, teachers, staff and Bryant participate, he said. Morning announcements and “The Pledge of Allegiance” take place, and members of the community are invited in to talk to students.

“I think that has had a huge impact on each day,” Bryant said. “We all start the day as one. We all start the day as equals. We’re all responsible for what the school’s culture and climate is here. That’s been huge for us.”

Adah is one student who has come to embrace the school culture. She has been making signs for open house and participating in other ways.

It wasn’t always that way.

Adah spent half of seventh grade, all of eighth grade and about half of ninth grade in Pathways Academy. She then left and did some homeschooling online, but missed the social aspect of school, so she returned to Pathways last school year, and completed 10th grade. As an 11th-grader, she feels more positive about school than ever, she said.

“The teachers and the principal drop everything if you need to talk to someone; if you need help,” she said. “They’ll give you the one-on-one help you need – which for me is a really big thing. If I’m having a bad day and have someone to talk it through with, it helps me out instead of just going with my first reaction.”

Adah became emotional while saying that Pathways Academy is a “really good school” despite that some people might think of it as a “school where bad kids go.”

“When we come here, it’s an easier environment, and most people get along, I think,” she said. “They just really help us get on the track we’re supposed to be on and do what we’re supposed to do.”




Pathways Academy licensed mental health counselor Michele Paladino and student Adah Howard talk to each other
Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Pathways Academy at Remington student Adah Howard, 16, of Central Valley, speaks with Pathways Academy licensed mental health counselor Michele Paladino on Thursday, Oct. 12, in Paladino’s office in the former Remington Elementary School building.


Pathways Academy licensed mental health counselor Michele Paladino and student Adah Howard pose for a photo together
Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Pathways Academy at Remington student Adah Howard, 16, of Central Valley, poses for a picture with Pathways Academy licensed mental health counselor Michele Paladino on Thursday, Oct. 12, in Paladino’s office in the former Remington Elementary School building.








 
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