A principal colleague of mine and I have the unique privilege of being administrators in a school where there is a Behaviour Intervention Program (BIP). This program is described as:
The Behaviour Intervention Program is provided for exceptional students who exhibit extreme difficulty coping in the community school. Typically, these students will have exhibited many or all of the following behaviours: verbal aggression, physical aggression, profound inability to build or maintain interpersonal relationships, excessive anger, severe non-compliance, extreme lack of impulse control, extreme low self-esteem, extreme defiant behaviour, extreme difficulty coping in the community school, an inability to learn that cannot be traced intellectually, sensory or other health factors. The focus of the program is to provide a structured learning environment and an opportunity to develop appropriate prosocial behaviours.
From the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board website
Sounds like a scary place doesn’t it? I will admit when I got news that my appointment as a VP was at a school with this type of classroom, I was initially terrified. But very quickly, as I got to know the 8 boys in our Intermediate (grade 7-8) BIP, my apprehension melted away and I fell in love with them. All are wonderful kids with complex needs, and coping with situations that would knock me on my you-know-what. And they came to school to learn. Wow. (And two boys especially were absolute rock stars as kindergarten helpers! Nothing like an embarrassed, trying-to-look-tough 13-year old with a 4-year wrapped adoringly around his leg!)
But not everyone feels that way about them. When calling for guest teachers or casual educational assistants, when they heard that it was for a BIP, there was often an audible gasp followed by a long pause at the other end of the phone line. Cue the desperate pitch: “Really, they’re very good kids. There’s an EA in the room at all times”, or “The teacher’s been in this program for a long time. Just follow his lead”, or “I’ll come up and check on how everything’s going as often as I can”, and on and on. Reluctantly they would agree to come in, and I would be more than a little miffed that such a deep stigma was attached to students in this classroom. This stigma can seep out into the student body, the staff, parents and the school system.
But back to my colleague. One day early in the school year, he dropped by the school for a visit. We chatted about our different sites, the various extra-curricular activities we had going on, etc. Eventually the conversation turned to the BIP programs, and not just ours, but those system-wide. He shared his vision for the BIP programs in our board – namely to not have them anymore.
This is when he got really excited. “These are kids with learning disabilities, like any other student with an LD,” he said. “Their issues with social skills have impeded their abilities to learn, just as a student may have cognitive challenges that affect their learning. Then we throw them in a class together, where they trigger each other.” I have to say that I agree. Especially when you have an intermediate program where you throw the usual pre-teen issues on top of the challenges these kids are already struggling to cope with, and you can get nuclear real quick.
His idea for an alternative? Dismantle the classes altogether, have an EA buddied up with any student identified with behavioural exceptionalities in any homeroom class and go from there. Now I’m sure my colleague has thought further down the road on his vision, but since his visit, the thought has stuck in my head. I have no idea what the ramifications are budget-wise, but really, ideally, if it’s money that goes towards student success, then what’s the problem?
Curious as to the thoughts of others on this.