August, 16 2018

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An alternative for troubled teens

Jaclyn was a moody 16-year-old on the verge of failing. Although she had been considered a gifted student, getting in fights and issues with her family were overshadowing school attendance.

Her problems had become well known. It was clear that she was in need of a program where she could receive small-class and individualized instruction, structure and access to therapy to help her cope with home-life stress.

Her guidance counselor and teachers suggested an alternative program "" Behavioral Health Associates Academy, an alternative school that serves as a safety net for students whose behavior or poor academics have impeded their ability to succeed at their home school district. The program accepted her.

With the small classes and individualized instruction, she was able to catch up academically. She worked on her social skills in group therapy and, because it is a very nurturing and supportive atmosphere, truancy was no longer an issue.

Jaclyn completed her stay at BHA Academy, transitioned back to her home school district, and is doing well. She reflects the goal of both BHA Academy and Educare to help troubled students achieve success and return to their home school districts.

BHA is a Lehighton-area agency that, among its numerous services, provides an alternative education program for students who have experienced a major life event that has interfered with their ability to succeed in school. BHA is a nonprofit health care foundation founded in 2003.

Educare Educational Services, its sister agency, founded in 1998, is a partnership in Weissport. Among its many services, it also provides an alternative education program.

Educare Educational Services partners Richard P. Caffrey and Joseph J. Trimmel Jr., who were former college friends at Kutztown University, are the founders of both agencies.

After graduation, the two went their separate ways, with Caffrey working first as a classroom teacher and rising to supervisor at Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit 21. Trimmel worked for Carbon County Children and Youth, Carbon County Juvenile Probation leaving the county as Chief Juvenile Court Officer in 1993 and as an executive administrator and director of treatment services for ACT 1.

In 1997, they reconnected and found they pursued complementary careers. "After years of working with children for other agencies, they decided to do what they knew for themselves," said Colleen Giglotti, executive administrator of Educare Educational Services and BHA.

Coincidentally, Giglotti had worked for both men in different capacities "" Caffrey at the intermediate unit and Trimmel at ACT 1. The partners opened an administrative office in Lehighton and began offering Provider-50 Services, an in-home mental health service for children.

In 1998, the partners' next venture was to assume a small alternative education program, Crossroads, with 12 students on Bridge Street in Weissport. They later purchased the building from its owner. The building, which underwent an extensive remodeling, houses the Educare program "" a private academic school, licensed through the Pennsylvania Department of Education. There are three classrooms with 12 to 15 students in grades seven through 12. Each classroom has a certified teacher and two instructional assistants. Educare enrollment lists 43 students.

In 1999, Behavioral Health Associates' Partial Hospitalization Program, unrelated to Educare, began operations at the Weissport building. "This insurance-funded program offers outpatient treatment for students with severe, but often short-term, mental health issues that are so pressing they are unable to function," said Giglotti.

The average length of stay is targeted for 60 days and is based on goal-area completion. "Our emphasis is on the three Rs: respect, responsibility and reality," said Len Ogozalek, director of the BHA Partial Hospitalization Program.

In 2003, BHA expanded its services to include alternative education services like its sister agency, Educare. BHA Academy is housed in the former First Ward Elementary School building at 325 Alum St., Lehighton. This large building can accommodate 60 students in grades one through 12, plus room for an additional 30 students in the Partial Hospitalization Program, which was relocated to this building. Educare and BHA maintain contracts in their alternative educational programs with 17 local school districts.

"We get kids with severely acute problems that require immediate attention," said John Kennedy, a mental health worker in the BHA Partial Hospitalization Program. "These are kids at risk for hospitalization. They are allowed to come here, spend the day, get academics as well as group/individual therapy, and go home."

The majority of the students are at the alternative schools anywhere from 45 days to a year. "My goal is to get them back to their home schools as soon as possible," said Giglotti. With a student-to-staff ratio never more than 4-to-1, sessions of group therapy, and a nurturing environment, the school feels it is achieving its goals.

"We like to provide our students with an environment that includes instruction and activities that are similar to their home school," said Giglotti. "These activities include book fairs, field trips and student pictures. We issue report cards and meet with the students' parents and home-school representatives every 40 days to discuss possibilities of the students returning to their home school."

"Having people that really care about the students and truly taking an interest in their job rather than just collecting a paycheck make the programs what they are "" successful," added Giglotti.

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