wcakOne of the goals that Dan Habib has for his documentary, Who Cares About Kelsey?, is to raise awareness about the struggle of children with emotional/behavioral disorders (EBDs) in U.S. school settings.

Students participating in a service-learning class in the University of Georgia’s (UGA) counseling program have taken this mission to heart. They are joining with local organizations to host a community screening of the film Feb. 13.

Jolie Ziomek-Daigle, an associate professor and coordinator of UGA’s school counseling program, heard about Who Cares About Kelsey? from a colleague in the school’s department of special education.

 “UGA’s College of Education has a professional partnership with Clarke County Public Schools, part of which involves placing professors in residence in schools to supervise student internships, provide professional development trainings and consultation, and to serve in leadership capacities,” explains Ziomek-Daigle, a member of the American Counseling Association.

This year, she is serving as the professor-in-residence at Rutland Academy, one of 24 Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support schools in the state.

“Students with emotional and behavioral disabilities receive full instruction and therapeutic support at Rutland Academy through schoolwide positive behavioral support and interventions (PBIS) and related interventions,” Ziomek-Daigle says.

In addition, 14 UGA counseling students were placed at Rutland Academy this year as a component of a service-learning course, which is a requirement within the UGA counseling program.

At the start of the school year, Ziomek-Daigle asked her colleague in the department of special education to come to her class and discuss strategies for working with students with EBDs. The colleague quickly encouraged Ziomek-Daigle to order Who Cares About Kelsey? so the counseling class could watch the documentary and explore its free tool kit, which includes best practices and supplemental clips.

“After watching the documentary, I was amazed at how well counselors and school counselors fit into this work through our beliefs, training and expertise,” says Ziomek-Daigle. “And [I found] that I needed to include more evidence-based practices, like PBIS, into our training model.”

The counseling students jumped at the opportunity to schedule one of the community screenings the documentary promotes. After meeting to discuss the opportunity, the students stressed their desire to make the screening as far-reaching as possible.

“We spoke with local agencies and community organizations and asked for their involvement,” Ziomek-Daigle says. “To date, the UGA school counseling program, the UGA office of service learning, Rutland Academy, The Cottage/Child Advocacy Center, Nuci’s Space and Empowered Youth Programs are organizing partners for the screening.”

Believing it important to hold the screening in the actual community, the class, with financial assistance from The Cottage/Child Advocacy Center, was able to reserve a room at Cine’, a local theater in downtown Athens, where UGA is located.

The goal, Ziomek-Daigle says, was to have the screening “stem from the community and not be seen as just another university-led initiative. “

Ashley Holmes, a counseling student in the course, thinks that bringing the screening to Athens is a good idea because “it will shed light on some of the issues that these students [in the community] face, in hopes of rallying more support toward their educational pursuits. With more community awareness and action, these students will see that they, too, can complete their education in a school with support and further it beyond high school.”

Classmate Chauntice Buck, echoes those thoughts. It is “essential that we get as many stakeholders in the community to become aware of EBD and how to better serve students who have this disability,” says Buck, who is a member of ACA. “Providing a narrative experience from a student’s perspective (Kelsey) will really highlight the struggles and thought process of students dealing with similar issues. With this documentary, people will be able to put a realistic face and experience with the disorder and hopefully will eliminate the negative perception that is often associated with people who may have this disability.”

She says viewing the documentary has affected her counseling education and career for the better.

“The screening has definitely given me a personal perspective on how students with EBD cognitively, emotionally and physically deal with this disorder and how it impacts their social and academic development,” Buck says. “It is one thing to read about this disability in an academic textbook, but it is a total different experience when seeing it in action. With this knowledge, I hope to better serve my future students by relating to their experience and having a more practical idea of how to help them. As a future school counselor, I am aware that the school setting fosters a greater opportunity for students to develop meaningful relationships. As well as having a positive adult figure present, these relationships are fundamental to
 sustaining environments of
success in which students learn to prosper.”

Though Holmes, also a member of ACA, first heard about the documentary through the service-learning course, she immediately saw a use for it within the community.

“Through our work with K-12 students with emotional and behavioral disabilities this semester, we were exposed to the challenges these students face every day and how some schools do not have a system in place to help students be successful,” she says. “I think my initial thoughts were that Kelsey’s story was one of triumph in the face of adversity, which had a lot to do with her school’s reform.”

Holmes hopes that after the screening, “the community will be more aware of the challenges these students face and are more sensitive, empathetic and patient with these students. I also hope that as a result, more support will be geared toward the institutions that support these students.”

She believes more opportunities for inclusion should exist within the classroom and says the documentary can help promote this idea.

“This will give students an opportunity to tutor, assist and support their fellow classmates,” she says. “Additionally, I believe that all students can benefit from PBIS. PBIS helps educators with classroom management because classroom expectations are known and the teacher consistently reinforces the positive behavior, which creates student buy-in.” 

Mi’esha Frierson, a fellow classmate, agrees.

“I think that this subject is important because individuals struggle with this problem every day,” says Frierson, also a member of ACA. “If not given the proper support and guidance like PBIS, these challenges may inhibit them from achieving future success. I believe that making the community more aware will make the community less judgmental and, hopefully, more likely to create the foundation that these students will stand on in the future.”

Frierson hopes the February documentary screening in Athens willbring a sense of unity and direction to the community so that as a whole, we can embrace evidence-based practices like PBIS to help children succeed. It takes a village to raise a child. However, if the village is not fully informed on the needs of the specific child, raising the child will be a challenge.”

Buck would like to see the community screening bring not only awareness “but increase advocacy and support like providing more PBIS training for counselors and educators. Educating parents, teachers, policymakers and even students on what EBD is, looks like in the school setting, and how it can influence a student’s personal, social and academic success or failure will hopefully lead to eventually having all schools use effective, evidence-based models like PBIS that will help these students.”

Ziomek-Daigle says her goal is to see an increased use of PBIS throughout local schools.

“School administrators need to take missed instruction time, absences and suspensions very seriously,” she says, “as these numbers are included in annual school report cards. PBIS is focused on prevention, is solution-focused and allows all school staff to use the same language and operate from the same framework.”

Learning about EBDs and how they affect student development is very important, especially when considering minority students, Buck says.

“Research has shown that African American students are 30 percent more likely to face disciplinary action, often for a similar incident that would not lead to suspension for [their] White or Latino counterparts. Instead of attributing their ‘aggressive’ behavior to being ‘typical’ of that student, delving deeper into the matter to investigate what further issues may be going on with that student and then developing ways to better assist them is a more advantageous way to approach this issue.”

Ziomek-Daigle has been impressed with the way her counseling students have used their service-learning course to “to identify a need in our schools and communities. Through the Rutland Academy partnership, the students have gained skills in clinical work, classroom management and consultation. They also have honed advocacy skills in building partnerships locally and are using their voices to help improve the lives of youth and families in our community. I hope the screening recommits us to helping youth succeed through the use of evidence-based practices such as PBIS. I also hope we discuss next steps and are able to identify training needs and resources for our local educators and school counselors.”