- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

NORMAL, Ill. (AP) - Adrianna Mounts made a lot of bad choices before high school.

Clashes with peers and people outside school were part of an unimpressive record of behavior.

All that changed in August when she enrolled in Choices, a class at Normal Community West High School. Developed by special education teacher Jill Prochnow, the class uses “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens” by Sean Covey as its core curriculum.

“I remember last year I was not in a good place. Now I’m not in an amazing place, but a better place,” said Mounts, adding it’s helped to sharing experiences with other students who face the same or worse struggles.

School social worker Rosann Emerson, who teaches the class with Prochnow, said the class “fits the needs of students where something has occurred that’s interfering with their academic performance.”

The 17 students, who all have an Individualized Education Plan, start off by taking a serious look with their teacher at what has brought them to the class.

It takes courage for some students to reveal the difficult stories that are part of their personal histories, said Emerson.

“They are responding to what’s going on, to life’s stressors. But it doesn’t have to define them,” said Emerson.

A school task force is advocating expansion of the Choices class as an elective for all students.

“I think all people have problems and we all could benefit from more people in our circle supporting us. Life is hard,” said Emerson.

For Adrianna, the difference is evident at home as well as school, according to her grandmother, Beth Mounds-Zemmel of Normal.

“This year has been so much better. She’s just a totally different kid. She’s using the tools she been given and thinking things through,” said Mounds-Zemmel.

Choices is part of an a la carte approach school districts are developing in response to a greater need for services for students facing a broader range of issues. Many students without an individualized plan receive support more informally, said Nancy Braun, special education supervisor with Normal-based Unit 5 schools.

Determining what, if any services, are needed begins when a student walks into public school, said Michelle Lamboley, director of special education for Unit 5.

“Students come to us as young as 3 and we have to sort through what their needs are. We’re never going to place a child in special education without collecting a lot of data. We put a lot of emphasis on support,” said Lamboley.

A total of 775 students - about 14 percent of total enrollment - currently receive special education services in Bloomington-based District 87 schools.

In Unit 5, 1,900 students - also 14 percent of its enrollment - receive services through specialized learning plans.

The stigma has lessened significantly, said Braun.

“Where it was once a segregated system, now it’s blended,” said Braun, noting that it’s common for students at all grade levels to come and go from the classroom for extra help with reading, math or other issues.

District 87 and Unit 5 both have social workers and psychologists who rotate among schools to evaluate students and counsel them with issues that affect their ability to succeed.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/1y1Rgwm

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Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com

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