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Rock Hill schools begin program targeting angry students

Rock Hill schools will launch an "intensive intervention" program for troubled elementary school students.

Until now, principals were left to use traditional discipline to manage children with "extreme" behavioral problems who repeatedly disrupt class or harm others. Those students were suspended.

Starting next week, kindergarten and first-grade students who act that way could be enrolled in an eight-week program that includes daily therapy sessions, small-group academic lessons and family counseling.

The seven-member school board unanimously approved district leaders' request to begin the program, which has been in the works since November.

It launches at a time when district officials say schools are seeing more students exhibit behavior described as "uncontrollable outbursts of anger."

A student ran from a school into nearby woods and police were called to help bring him back, district spokeswoman Elaine Baker said.

Another told a teacher he hated her and threatened to kill her. One child hit a teacher. Another bit a teacher.

"We're seeing a concerning, dramatic increase in the number of young children with these needs," Associate Superintendent Harriet Jaworowski said. "If they're that young, it's a reaction to something else. That's what we want to address."

The district has identified at least 12 students who would benefit from the program.

The program will cost $100,000 a year, according to the district. That will pay for a teacher and counselor who will run the program at the district's Parent Smart center.

No more than five students at a time will be in the program. The goal is for them to return to their school after eight weeks, or fewer.

Before a student can join the program, his or her family must agree to participate in counseling sessions and provide help at home.

"In order for a child to be successful, they really need their parents' support," said Frank Palermo, the elementary school counselor who will run the program. "We're trying to help this child and family move forward and really change their lives."

Aside from academics, the program will focus on social and emotional skills and "whatever it takes ... to prepare students to succeed," Palermo said.

Officials have wanted to launch such a program for several years, Jaworowski said, but money has been tight. This year, there's more state money for "at risk" students.

If the program is successful, educators hope to add more grades.

It can't expand soon enough, school board member Walter Brown said.

"We're talking five students and we've already identified 10 or 12," he said. "There's going to be a need for it. There's already a need."