Rock Hill parent Crystal Whetstone resisted the idea earlier this year that her nine-year-old son be put in the school district’s behavior modification program.
Now, she can’t imagine her son, a third grader, not having that opportunity.
Whetstone said her son, an only child, was getting high grades before he had problems dealing with anger and conflict. Thanks to the program, he is doing better.
“His attitude is completely different and his grades have gone up -- again,” Whetstone said recently. “They really helped him understand how to correct his behavior.”
T3 (training, teaching and transitioning) is Rock Hill’s Intensive Therapeutic Behavior Modification program. The program serves kindergarten through fifth grade students whose in-school behavior affects their progress, said Frank Palermo, T3 Elementary Center director and a licensed counselor.
The short-term program, which launched almost six years ago, is housed in The Children’s School at Sylvia Circle and serves students from all over the district. The goal is to get students back in their assigned classrooms, prepared to be successful in school and home.
“We saw a need, that there were an increased number of elementary students with disruptive behaviors and it was hurting their ability to learn, and other students,” Palermo said. “It’s another measure Rock Hill is doing to try to ... prevent some of those situations from happening.”
T3 trains students, families and school personnel to support children in the classroom using therapeutic approaches, according to the district. Students are placed in a small classroom with two teachers, where they learn material aligned with their assigned school’s expectations.
When students are ready to go back to their assigned school, T3 staff work with assigned-school faculty, the child and their family to ensure a smooth transition.
Whetstone said her son has completed the program.
“He did great,” she said. “In two months, he did a complete change.”
Palermo said the program addresses various student issues, such as impulse control, anger, attention problems, defiance, anxiety and aggression. Schools, families, counselors and physicians in the Rock Hill area can refer students to the program.
T3 teaches students to deal with conflict and work independently, said Welvin Simpkins, a T3 school counselor.
“It’s about giving them ownership,” he said. “Early detection is normally the key. Our goal is to hopefully handle some of the behavior issues before they get to middle school and high school.”
For eight to 12 weeks, the students and their families work together with T3 counselors to develop goals specific to the student. Palermo said it is crucial the family work with the program.
“We can help the students, but to have long-term success the parents have to be doing similar stuff that we are doing,” he said.
Whetstone said she encourages other parents to stay strong.
“Don’t give up. Because your child is your everything and you need them to succeed,” she said. “If you want them to succeed, you’re going to do everything you can to make sure it happens.”
T3 rewards positive behavior. Students earn colored belts, similar to martial arts, when they meet individual goals, Palermo said. They earn a black belt when they are ready to transition back to their assigned school.
“We’re very goal oriented,” Palermo said. “This program is meant to push kids back out.”
Whetstone said the program makes a difference.
“It’s not a school for bad kids. It’s just a school to help kids,” she said. “It helps all kinds of kids through all kinds of situations.”
T3 is unique to Rock Hill, but employs much-used principals of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), Palermo said.
PBIS is a proactive framework focused on positive behavior support and preventive school discipline, according to the Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, established by the U.S. Department of Education.
The PBIS approach helps schools adopt evidence-based behavioral interventions designed to improve student behavior and support academic success.
“This is where you can praise or promote positive things the student is doing to build self esteem, create an intrinsic motivation to do better and ... allow a child to feel success,” Palermo said. “The T3 program’s consistent use of PBIS helps us prevent many behavioral issues before they even occur.”
A student who is successful in T3 will go back to their assigned school with a list of recommendations to fit their needs, Palermo said. If a child has problems later on, those recommendations are ways the issues can be resolved. The T3 staff also will continue to follow up with the students, Palermo said. He said they will help the student’s teacher learn how to work with the student and show the child what is expected.
Of 153 students served from January 2012 to December 2016, 87.5 percent returned to their assigned classrooms and showed significant improvement in their behavior, Palermo said.
“I feel blessed that Rock Hill schools has given us the opportunity to do this,” he said. “From what I know, it has had a significant impact on those students that we’ve worked with.”