‘Redirect Center’ at Saugerties school helps students cope (video)
SAUGERTIES, N.Y. — On any given school day, students at Saugerties Junior/Senior High school have a place to get help with their problems, whether being bullied on Facebook, feeling out of control or just needing a quiet place to eat lunch.
The Redirect Center, now in its second year, was born out of a desire to help students deal with issues without having to resort to discipline. The center is staffed by Dominic Zarrella, a special education teacher who also coaches wrestling and football, and Gina Kiniry, the school’s social worker. During school hours, one of them is always available in the Redirect Center to meet with students.
“It’s a place in the building where kids can come if they’re feeling in any way troubled,” Zarrella said on Monday. He said that includes students who are having emotional issues or are not socially accepted. He also said there are students in the center each day who have been bullied online.
Zarrella and Kiniry shared one successful interaction that occurred between two students. A ninth-grade girl came to the center to seek help with her math assignment. An eighth-grade boy, who is on the autistic spectrum and in advanced placement courses, offered to help her. The boy has social issues, and the two students normally wouldn’t have interacted, but on that day, they had a great dialogue, Zarrella said.
“The social outcasts we have that come in here have developed friendships,” he said.
Kiniry said those friendships and groupings formed naturally on their own.
“Kids are now starting to trust us on lots of issues,” Zarrella said, noting an instance in which a boyfriend and girlfriend were having issues and the girl’s friends brought the matter to his attention.
Kiniry said the Redirect Center grew out of the district’s Helping and Nurturing Diverse Students and Staff Committee, which came up with classroom management techniques that are more in line with the state’s Dignity for All Students Act.
She said the committee came up with four simple rules based on the types of referrals teachers were writing for students and started using them in classrooms. Those rules were for students to be punctual, respectful, engaged and prepared, Kiniry said. Continued...
But “the teachers very quickly learned that they could only take that so far and protect the integrity of the classroom,” Kiniry said. “They needed a place for the kids to go,” especially when writing a student up for discipline wasn’t appropriate.
The support of forward-thinking staff and administration, especially Superintendent Seth Turner, was key, Kiniry and Zarrella said. They said Turner saw the need for the Redirect Center program.
“For me, it was always important to try to prevent problems from becoming issues and then consequences,” Zarrella said. To that end, he said, it was important to get to know the students at an early age and learn who they were associating with and what type of behavior they had. Zarrella said by doing that, he hoped to be able to intervene before a problem occurred, which is more successful than reacting to a situation.
Kiniry said the center is not just for at-risk students, but all students — and staff members, too.
“It’s a very different way of looking at behavior within a school setting,” Kiniry said. “Not reactionary.”
She added that she and Zarrella work in tandem with the school’s guidance counselors, school resource officer and administrators.
Zarrella said it’s nice when an open-minded teacher is willing to sit down with a student for mediation. He said the student learns the teacher does not want to discipline him or her and is trying to change the student’s behavior.
Kiniry said the Redirect Center also is about working with students who may have trouble in one class but not others.
“What I think is great about what we’re doing is, even in this economic climate, we’ve developed a progressive program that is meeting the needs not only from a legal standpoint, but for our students,” Zarrella said.
Both Zarrella and Kiniry said they do not discipline students at the center. If discipline is needed, it will come from the principal or assistant principals. Continued...
The two also do not deal with fighting, drugs or alcohol, but they try to prevent fights and other problems. While not always successful, they said they do stop many fights from happening.
Zarrella also said it’s important for he and Kiniry to understand students’s homes lives and that “communication with parents is a major part of what we do.”
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