After about a six-month delay, the Waco Independent School District’s board of trustees has approved a social services project with Baylor University’s education and social work schools intended to help students struggling with severe behavioral challenges.

Called the Baylor School of Education Campus-Based Family Services Project, the initiative will be funded through a tax increase passed in November 2015 that will bring the district an additional $8.2 million per year. Trustees approved the program at a regular meeting Thursday.

Originally proposed in January under the name Be Emotionally Aware and Responsive, or the BEAR project, the district will pay $348,967 over a period of three years starting this fall, according to proposal documents.

Four Baylor graduate students with the school of psychology and school of education, a project director, two primary investigators and an evaluation coordinator will begin working with teachers at a designated elementary campus — and, eventually RESET classrooms, where students receive ongoing behavioral support from teachers and paraprofessionals, across the district — to help curb severe behavioral challenges students might be dealing with, said Trudy Bender, Waco ISD’s coordinator of district behavior intervention, before the meeting. Bender’s role has been to advise on what the district needs and where Baylor could serve most effectively, she said.

The project was delayed shortly after it was proposed in January because the board said it was “too broad and lacked a clear vision” as well as metrics to track progress. The cost has also been reduced since the original proposal.

Baylor faculty revised the plan in April. Thursday’s vote was unanimous.

“We are extremely excited. It was a lengthy journey that we learned a lot from, but in the end we came out with such a great potential for collaboration with one of the largest districts in the Waco area,” said Kristen Padilla-Mainor, the coordinator at Baylor’s Center for Developmental Disabilities, which serves children with special needs.

Padilla-Mainor is one of the co-principal investigators for the project. The project team will immediately begin working with district personnel to find an elementary campus and do a readiness assessment to find the campus most willing to take on the behavioral support, she said.

The first two years of the project will be focused on implementing behavioral intervention plans, and the third will be focused on evaluating the results of those plans, Padilla-Mainor said.

According to data from the 2013-14 school year, Waco ISD led the state in rate of out-of-school suspensions, at 22 suspensions for every 100 elementary students.

Using RESET classrooms as an example, Bender said, teachers will do a functional behavioral assessment. The teachers and graduate students will then interview those who interact with the student. They will identify the most significant behaviors that need to be addressed, such as strong aggressiveness or a student constantly running out of class, she said.

From there, they determine why the student is functioning that way, and once that’s done, the RESET teacher and graduate students will determine what healthy replacement behavior or what kind of intervention plan is needed, Bender said.

Then they will work to help the student practice the healthy behavior over a matter of a few days. Once the child is put back in class, he or she will be checked in on, in case extra reinforcement is needed.

If behavior is improving, the child will be praised for behaving in a positive way instead of a way that may disrupt daily education, Bender said.

“That’s why it’s so great to have graduate students, with experience, on the ground on a daily basis. Every student will have a specific, individualized plan, and that’s what these students with very challenging behaviors need,” Bender said.

The program’s results will then be measured through specific evaluation tools, including the School-wide Evaluation Tool designed to assess effective behavior support during an academic year , as well as discipline data, including suspension numbers, before and after the program starts.

“We are so happy to have this additional help from Baylor University faculty and staff,” Superintendent Bonny Cain said after the meeting. “It’s going to do so many things for our kids and our families. We will see the positive effects of this immediately.”

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