Hillsides Community Blog

A Look at a Student’s Profile and Value Added in our Progams

Hillsides Education Center’s school year begins next week, and I thought it would be important to profile one of our students to give our advocates an idea of who we serve at our nonpublic special education school. Students who attend HEC must be referred by their hometown school districts and have an individualized education plan (IEP). Not all students live at Hillsides. Some live in the community with their parents, relatives or other caregivers. Students who have IEPs are identified with learning challenges, and may have behavioral issues that make it difficult for them to achieve academic successes in the least restrictive environment, namely, a public school.

David, 13, was a student that lived with his parents in the community. On the autism spectrum, he struggled in previous schools before coming to HEC. David had difficulty socially, staying in class, was easily agitated with all social activities that went along with school.
By the end of the year, David made friends, accessed the curriculum and was learning material that the teacher presented. According to Jay Bechtol, director of Hillsides Education Center, David’s social impediments were impacting his ability to learn previously. With support of his team on campus, David was able to focus and learn, deal with social issues, and make notable progress in his academics. What makes this possible for David and so many other students who find themselves having challenges academically and socially while at school? At Hillsides Education Center, 84 students are placed in a learning environment and situation where teachers and assistants work with the child to identify strengths, solve problems, and accept support in order to achieve significant outcomes they can be proud of.

Value Added Approach
Many of you have been following the Los Angeles Times series on the quality of education within the Los Angeles Unified School District.  What is proposed in these articles is a method known as “value added” to the evaluation and rating of instructors and actual schools as one way for parents to be informed about the quality of the education that their children receive. It has generated some controversy and hopefully, a good public discussion on our need to assure quality education for all the children served through LAUSD.
What is interesting about the value added approach is that it compares individual student performance projections with actual achievement and then assigns value to the instructors who presumably help the student exceed the projected performance level. Interesting assumption!
Expectations can have a powerful effect on outcomes. Though we always welcome expectations that are reasonable and achievable, I suggest that we also need to establish expectations that motivate and therefore help us to exceed current levels of performance.
How should we measure our performance here at Hillsides?
What is the” value added” that we provide the children, youth and families we serve?
However we choose to measure the quality of the care we offer, we certainly cannot be satisfied with just an improvement of behavior, but rather expect and strive for the kind of well being that allows our children and their families to be restored to the highest level of functioning possible, nothing less.
In an effort to strengthen our capacity to deliver such quality care, Hillsides, throughout the next few months, will be examining possible national accreditation as a way of establishing clearly stated expectations for all aspects of our services and administration. Look for updates on this process here on the blog and follow along as we attempt to also provide a “value added” approach to the services we provide for whom we care.

Update on AB 12
Yesterday afternoon, AB 12 passed in the California State Senate on a vote of 26 to 8, with 5 abstentions. Then last night, AB 12 went back to the Assembly, which approved the final version of AB 12 on a vote of 73 to 2!

Just yesterday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that youth unemployment hit 51.1%, the highest rate since the government started collecting this data in 1948. The need is so clear and AB 12 can address it with newly available federal funding.

From here, AB 12 enters its final stage: on to Governor Schwarzenegger, who has until the end of September to either sign or veto the bill. This effort will require hard work on the part of every person who cares about children and youth in foster care. 

$578 Million for a New School…So What?

Much has been said about the price tag for the newly built Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools campus, west of downtown Los Angeles, which will open next month to receive its first class of students. Surely the cost is outrageous in the current environment of fiscal constraint. We certainly can question a public funding system that is able to support such construction while laying off teachers, increasing classroom size and shortening the academic year. Here at Hillsides we are forced to “barter” with local school districts that cannot pay the approved tuition for the students we serve at Hillsides Education Center because of lack of funding.
However, in spite of our concerns, we must not lose sight of the statement that this new complex makes to the students and community it serves. For too long these are the same students that labored to learn in what some would call a most basic, if not, primitive environment. Certainly these students deserve a decent and well-equipped place in which to be educated. Certainly there is never enough that we can do to provide all children with the educational opportunity they need to be successful.

If only we were able to provide such facilities to all student…If only all teachers were well compensated…If only we took seriously the public rhetoric valuing our children as a precious resource…If only…

Giving Students the Right Start for School

Back to school is just around the corner for so many children and their families. This time of year may bring some increased anxiety for vulnerable families who have financial challenges and are just barely making ends meet. At Hillsides, we are fortunate to have friends who generously remember us during this time and give in-kind donations of backpacks and school supplies for the children living on our campus. Yet, there is still so much to do for the 66 children who live with us.  I would like to encourage you, the businesses and organizations you’re involved in to participate in giving back and giving students the right start to their school year. You’ll be helping the children and families we serve start on the right track to what could be a very successful academic year.

We offer school-based mental health programs at 14 different schools in the Los Angeles and Pasadena Unified School Districts, serving 108 children and their families. These clients, served by our Hillsides Family Center’s community-based programs, could absolutely use new backpacks, school supplies and assistance in getting uniforms. For families in crisis, back to school supplies may be the last thing on their mind when the need to provide the basics of food, shelter, utilities, and transportation are greater.

Will you help us lighten the burden for our vulnerable families and bring some relief this upcoming month? Monthly bus passes and grocery scrip in increments of $25 would be greatly appreciated. Visit Hillsides to learn the various ways you can help.

In Spite of Budget Impasse Key Piece of Legislation Advances in Sacramento

During the past week a key piece of legislation has advanced at the State Capitol that will have a direct impact on children, youth and families we serve. The California Fostering Connections to Success Act (AB 12–Bass and Beall) is legislation that can significantly reform California’s foster care system for emancipated foster youth and relative caregivers in two ways. 

This legislation will assist youth who “age out” of foster care. Each year in California, more than 4,000 youth “age out” when they turn 18 and are no longer eligible for foster care. Currently, Hillsides Youth Moving On program offers twenty former foster youth quality, affordable transitional housing and independent living skills. Without the support of a family, these youth do not fare well as young adults and may experience homelessness, unemployment, criminal justice involvement and low educational attainment at rates greater than their peers. AB 12 will ensure a brighter future for older youth in California’s foster care system by expanding support for foster youth to age 21, an approach proven to lead to better outcomes and leverages substantial new federal funds.  Aimed at teaching them independence as they journey through adulthood, YMO residents could benefit greatly from this legislation. 

Another group that would benefit from AB 12 is relative caregivers. In 2001, California created the Kinship Guardian Assistance Program (Kin-GAP) to ensure that relatives who take legal guardianship of a child from the foster care system receive the same support provided to non-family members. AB 12 will build on this support by drawing on new federal dollars to operate what is currently an entirely state-funded program. Doing so will save California an estimated $70 million per year. This would be a real boom to our efforts to support the families of the children and youth we serve. Rather than look to an over burdened foster family system, these resources will help us support families to be better equipped to fulfill their responsibilities as parents and caregivers.

AB 12 moves onto the full Senate, which must vote on it before the end of August. Following this, it will proceed to Governor Schwarzenegger, who has until the end of September to sign or veto the bill. Encourage your Senators to move this legislation forward so that together, we can inform Governor Schwarzenegger of the benefits to emancipated foster youth and relative caregivers. We have an opportunity to impact the lives of so many affected by the foster care system.

Contact your Senator at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/yourleg.html and encourage them to pass AB12 to assist emancipated foster youth transition successfully into adulthood and support relative caregivers in their commitment to care for foster care children.

Making Improvements on the Field

Currently, we are replacing the worn and damaged artificial turf on our recreational field thanks to Pasadena Community Foundation for a grant they awarded for upper campus improvement and artificial turf. After 14 years of daily use, the field turf was in great need of replacement. The recreational field on our campus is used from dawn to dusk every day by the children that live at Hillsides who have behavioral issues and have been placed in our care by the Department of Children and Family Services.

Prior to 1996, Hillsides tried to maintain a traditional grass field. However, any grass that would grow on the 11,000 square foot field was quickly trampled by the constant morning to dusk use, revealing rock-hard packed dirt. In addition, we sustained high maintenance costs for regular watering, mowing, filling holes, and installing new sod and seed. For these reasons, we opted to use a durable outdoor synthetic turf material that could withstand the heavy use.

Our goal is to provide children, who have behavioral issues, with mental health treatment that will help them heal from the effects of prolonged and traumatic experiences. We give our children the opportunity to experience the normal activities of childhood such as after-school sports and summer camp. Recreation and physical activity are among the essential programs that we offer to support their recovery and wellness. Used by 150 vulnerable children who live at Hillsides Residential Treatment Center and attend the Hillsides Education Center, the field gives our staff a place where children can participate in physical activities, providing a context for our children to gain friendships, learn team building skills, develop self-esteem, build endurance and achieve better mental and physical health. Activities also provide a fun and stress-free environment for children who have spent much of their young lives enduring severe abuse and neglect.

Children at Hillsides participate in a full range of physical activities organized by our Recreation Department. These activities include: team sports such as baseball, football, basketball, field hockey, and soccer; calisthenics and dance; swimming; biking/roller skating; and track and field activities. Indoor activities are conducted in Hillsides’ recreation center while most outdoor activities are conducted on the large field centrally located to the recreation center and residential cottages.

The synthetic turf has proved to be the best option for the recreational field and has held up longer and better than we had anticipated. However, after some 14 years of hard use, the field turf was in great need of replacement. Much of the turf was threadbare and some areas were torn. These problems create slipping, tripping and other safety hazards for the children.  Now, thanks to the generosity of our funder, we are installing new, higher quality artificial turf.

The new turf, which will take two to three weeks to install, will help recreation staff to continue to develop a balanced fitness plan for all children despite the range of ages, physical capabilities and mental challenges. Children will be able to participate in all outdoor recreational sports and activities without the risk of slipping or tripping over holes and worn areas in the current turf. The old surface was removed and the ground re-graded. A wooden border has been installed. Next, the turf will be installed and then the sand and rubber fill goes in before smoothing it out.

While the artificial turf is being installed, the children are enjoying the pool more and are participating in indoor recreation center games in addition to off-campus activities that have been planned with the recreation staff.  We’ll bring you ongoing photos of the new improvements on the upper campus.
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