The Garland School of Social Work and the Waco Independent School District formed a multi-faceted partnership to help WISD students develop emotional resources that can lead to academic success through the BEAR Project.
BEAR stands for Be Emotionally Aware and Responsive, and its interns provide personalized attention to help students build skills that can help them stay in the classroom and learn.
“We're working with students, parents, teachers and administrators to be more emotionally responsive to one another to help focus on the social and emotional needs of WISD students," Carolyn Cole, BEAR Project manager and GSSW lecturer, said. "We place Master of Social Work (MSW) students in schools to work individually with students to help them develop behavior and emotional skills. Our goal is to help keep kids in the classroom where they can learn."
Four WISD elementary and middle schools participate in the BEAR Project, and each site has a BEAR Project intern embedded inside the school to work directly with students. The interns also work closely with teachers, administrators, counselors and other staff collaborating to keep all aware of needs and opportunities to build a better learning environment and help individual students. All schools involved serve many students living in poverty, who face different struggles and needs.
Wiley Opportunity Center is the district's alternative campus for students who displayed behavioral issues at their home campus. The goal here is to help them grow emotionally through the transition so that when they return to their home campuses, they are better able to handle the ups and downs children face and avoid having to come back.
“There was a significant drop in numbers of out-of-school suspension and in-school suspension rates this past year,” Carolyn said. “This was one of the major goals of the project.”
BEAR Project interns partner with students in a number of ways. While some students are sent out of class quickly after a disciplinary issue, others are paired through recommendations by teachers or administrators who notice a student’s emotional change or dip in academic performance. Since every student’s need is different, interns stay in constant communication with the school staff who see them most to better understand the child’s need and go about building a personal relationship with that student. Rather than viewing the student as a disciplinary project, interns take a restorative approach through one-on-one conversations, group activities, role-playing, and games to help students gain a sense of control over their emotions and challenges. In some cases, interns visit families in their homes.
As they make visits after hours and work with students on their campuses throughout the school day, interns help students develop emotional resources and allow busy educators to stretch their resources further.
"Much of what our interns do is giving individual attention that teachers and administrators would love to do, but they just can't," Dr. Jon Singletary, dean of GSSW, said. "There's so much expected of teachers, with the emphasis on testing and with the size of schools, that there was a real need for this."
The BEAR Project team also presented on ‘Trauma Informed Care’ and ‘The Effects of Childhood Trauma’ at several Waco ISD in-service/professional development days, faculty meetings, and parent night.
"The bottom line of the BEAR Project is this: it's about relationship," former WISD Superintendent Bonnie Cain said. "Baylor is a fantastic partner in helping us build lifelines that strengthen relationships with students and their parents and help them succeed."