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Fighting for kids brings hope for all

Our reporter last month was spending time working on a story about the programs and efforts by both students and staff at Mahoning Valley Community School, inside Youngstown’s Woodrow Wilson Alternative School, when a frustrated and obviously troubled young man lashed out angrily inside the classroom.

As the student acted out, Vindicator education reporter Chris McBride was a first-hand witness to the swift response, excellent training and incredible patience demonstrated by staff.

Indeed, we know it takes special people to work in environments that involve troubled or struggling youth.

In this instance, the response involved de-escalation tactics to cool the situation, remove the child from the root of his aggravation and attempt to talk him through his emotions.

Data shows the programs and methods being used by the Mahoning Valley Community School, or MVCS, staff must be working. MVCS is exceeding standards in graduation rate compared with similar schools in the state.

Due to varying credit status of students at MVCS, some are graduating between four and eight years. Students’ graduation percentage for four years is at 77.1 percent; 60.3 percent in five; 70.4 percent in six; 63.3 percent in seven; 43.1 percent in eight, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

While that might appear questionable, it exceeds success rates of other similar schools in Ohio. In fact, the school’s cumulative graduation rate sits at 63.8 percent, about 21.8 percentage points above the average for dropout recovery program schools in Ohio.

MVCS, sponsored by the Office of School Sponsorship at the Ohio Department of Education, is intended to serve youth who need an opportunity to get on track with their academics, is open enrollment and serves students in grades 7-12. There’s also an elementary class component, which teaches kindergarten through fourth grade. Emphasis is placed on teaching behavioral support and working on intervention.

Mahoning County Juvenile Court Judge Theresa Dellick established MVCS (formerly Mahoning Valley High School) in 2008 after gaining support from local superintendents to reroute students facing expulsion to the community school.

“As a juvenile judge, I’ve seen many students come to me after being expelled for their offenses,” Dellick said. “For these students, an education is the best and surest way out of crime or poverty.”

Bravo!

When many in schools, in the criminal justice system or even at home would have given up on these kids, Dellick did not.

A student’s likelihood of falling into this cycle increases after only one suspension, according to research conducted by Rice University’s Houston Education Research Consortium. That’s why it’s so important to work to get these kids back on track rather than just tossing them aside to end up in a worse situation.

MVCS faculty and staff, with assistance of the juvenile court, undergoes training to be prepared in areas such as mental health first aid training. This teaches staff how to report, respond and identify children with mental illness.

Annual training is provided also to teach staff de-escalation, appropriate restraint methods and techniques for dealing with aggressive behavior.

Trauma training helps staff understand the neurobiology of trauma and how it develops in children’s brains once they’re exposed to something very unsettling.

Parents also can have a say in how their child is treated. Every factor from poverty to trauma is considered when building the programs.

Today, 130 students from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties are enrolled at MVCS.

Currently MVCS shares space inside Woodrow Wilson Alternative School but MVCS Superintendent Jennifer Merritt and Dellick said there are plans to expand into its own location.

The expansion will be funded by grants and a $300,000 boost from the Mahoning County commissioners using American Rescue Plan funds.

We are pleased to see what obviously is a community effort to get these kids the assistance and the education they need to be successful members of society in the future.

The program here certainly should serve as a model in other communities.

editorial@vindy.com

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