BOULDER - For students with serious emotional issues, navigating the halls of a typical school can be daunting. That is part of the reason that the Boulder Valley School District created Halcyon School.
The Special Education program based in South Boulder serves 32 students, providing intensive academic and mental health supports to children with the highest level of need.
“We are a small setting with 20 people in a building, opposed to a [typical high school] building with 2,000,” explained Matt Dudek, the BVSD director of Special Education who oversees Halcyon. “Dignity is important. There is a relief because when you are at Halcyon, because you are no longer ‘the one that everyone is staring at when I’m having a meltdown in the hallway.’ Everyone there has got their own host of issues and challenges they’re working through and that works well.”
The program has been so successful that this year it was expanded to serve eight elementary level students.
Dudek is quick to mention that while he gets calls from parents from time to time who are interested in having their students placed at Halcyon, students must be referred to the program. They may not be open-enrolled to the school.
The district employs a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). All students are provided a universal level of support when it comes to academic, social and emotional needs. Students with additional needs are provided targeted support in the classroom or through the district’s ICAN programs (Intensive Centers for Affective Needs). There are four centralized ICAN programs at the elementary level, three at the middle level and five at the high school level.
If students require even more intensive supports than the ICAN programs can offer, they may be referred to Halcyon School.
“We get kids from all over the district. We have had students from Nederland. We have had students from Superior, Broomfield and Lafayette,” Dudek explained. “The majority of the students we see have demonstrated behaviors in less restrictive environments that may have been so disruptive that it has a significant impact on their learning or the learning of others. In some cases, it may have even been unsafe for themselves or others because they may be threatening to hurt themselves or others. By putting them in a more dedicated, separate school setting, we are able to provide safety and structure and then really look at what are those skill deficits that we really need to help them to develop.”
The team at Halcyon is like the Special Forces of Special Education -- specialists able to handle even the toughest cases. The program has four BVSD Special Education teachers who are highly qualified in different content areas and can provide academic instruction and special education components. Classroom behavioral specialists are assigned to each classroom, to provide additional mental health supports for our students. Through a partnership with Mental Health Partners, two therapists work with students, providing individual and group therapy for students and their families. Finally, a psychiatric nurse prescriber acts as an additional resource for families who may want to look at medication-related supports.
Dudek says the families Halcyon serves appreciate having everything under one roof, not to mention the successes that the program’s students often have in the intensive environment. While he has worked hard to ensure that students are able to stay in the program until they are 21 years old – his ultimate goal is for them to leave Halcyon.
“We sometimes have to do a gentle push. This might be the first time they’ve been successful in their lives, but this is also not real,” Dudek said. “We are looking at the three pillars: Success at School, Success at Home and Success in the Community. How do we transfer skills from one setting to another and really focus on not only the ultimate goal of a high school diploma, but what is after high school?’”
The goal is to have them return to their home school, empowered with the skills needed to be successful there and in their life in general. In fact, the Halcyon staff works closely with the staff at the home school throughout the entire process from referral to treatment to reintroduction – with this goal in mind.
“We talk about helping the baby bird leave the nest and how we can build upon successes,” Dudek said. “In the real world, you won’t be dealing with a class of 6 or 7 students with a teacher and a behavior specialist. You won’t have access to some of the resources you have there.”
That being said, students are not just shoved back into their home school. While reintroduction may look different from student to student, typically students begin slowly.
“We try to find that balance,” Dudek said. “What I don’t want is kids to yo-yo. We don’t want to have a situation where you met your goals and you’re successful, now let’s send you back full time and then they fall apart.”
Dudek says his favorite moment is when a student comes back to celebrate their graduation with the staff and students at Halcyon.
“After working with us, they earn their diploma at their home school. It is neat for our students to see that. It is neat for the community to be able to see that,” Dudek said.
Learn more about Halcyon School at https://hal.bvsd.org/Pages/default.aspx