class act: Best practices in action

class act:
Best practices in action

class act:
Best practices in action

Positive behavioral interventions help students succeed at Ascend Academy


ust south of Bakersfield, at a Southern Kern Unified School District school, a student with a history of cutting and other forms of self-harm ran off campus. Administrator Katie Notterman gave chase and the student responded by screaming at her. Notterman remained calm, reassuring the student that it was okay to yell and to be angry rather than to cut herself to express her sadness and frustration. The student eventually calmed down and returned to class.

This supportive approach reflects the innovative philosophy of the Ascend Academy, which uses a school-wide Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports system where students learn how to modify their own behavior through self-regulation and reflection. Faced with a growing number of behaviorally challenged students, Southern Kern USD launched the academy in 2013 as a small morning-only classroom, and has since expanded to a full-day program that is available for all Southern Kern USD students.

“Ascend was created to change the lives of students who were losing hope in school and in themselves,” Notterman said. “It was created to give students a place where their behavior does not define who they are as people.”

Such behavior had led to a large number of office referrals, suspensions and expulsions in the past. Once away from school, students often fell behind their peers in mainstream classrooms. The rural district of more than 3,000 students also faced challenging financial costs of bussing expelled students long-distances to other districts. Students with extreme behavior issues that were not responding to traditional support were then placed in facilities focusing on restraining behavior, not academics — further perpetuating the achievement gap.

In response, Southern Kern USD — a district in the Central Valley serving a large number of English learner students and students from low-income backgrounds — established Ascend to ensure these students didn’t fall through the academic cracks. The Golden Bell Award-winning academy includes highly trained teachers to accommodate the unique education needs of the students while working with them on behavior modification. Students are assessed throughout the day on their specific behaviors, staying on task and assignment completion. The students talk with staff and have discussions on strategies that will help them manage their behaviors. Staff also stress academics aligned to the standards of the district to keep students on track. Southern Kern USD has also allocated funding to create a new set of classrooms specifically designed to better support students with extreme behavior challenges.

The Ascend program is based on a ‘compassionate school’ philosophy where staff members focus on educating the whole child to create greater self-awareness and to foster greater focus and resilience.

In one example, an eighth grader had tremendous difficulty listening to authority, particularly when he was upset. The student was on the verge of expulsion upon entering the program. At Ascend, he learned to better control his emotions and to focus on classwork. This earned him the right to attend his first-ever field trip. He has since become a model student and returned to the comprehensive high school part-time.

Notterman said such success is representative of the goals of Ascend Academy. “It has given them the support they need to become academically successful and to build on that positive experience,” she said.

—Hugh Biggar