Entering the fourth week, I knew this would be five days of an emotional roller coaster. All of the counselors bonded so quickly with all of the kids that despite only spending four weeks with them, we knew we’d be upset come the last day. This week would be a little different in that we also had parent conferences with individual parents for each kid accompanied with one psychosocial or recreational counselor and an academic lead that worked closely with them, meaning every counselor would participate in two meetings. These meetings would cover academics, social interaction, strengths, challenges, and recommendations for the home and school environment. I was most intrigued by this because in my future career as a teacher, parent-teacher conferences were what I was most nervous about.
The students I was doing conferences for showed tremendous growth throughout the course of the program. One student, we’ll call him Student A, started out the program with difficulty regulating himself, often becoming very upset and crying easily over losing in recreational games. Emotional regulation is still a challenge for him, especially when it comes to his triggers (being targeted by his peers in a recreational game or tattletaling), but his improvement in his regulation shows in his recovery time from when he gets upset - it’s immensely shorter and sometimes he just becomes disgruntled but lets it go instead of having a full out breakdown. The use of the phrase “be flexible” has improved his willingness toward trying new things at home, and so long as his family and teacher (come September) stick to a behavioral plan of positive reinforcement combined with concrete expectations, Student A’s behavior will be of minimum concern moving forward.
Student B, the other student I did conferences for, showed tremendous improvements in his control of his body and use of personal space. Originally he would just get up out of his seat to get things without asking, but now he both asks for permission by raising a quiet hand and is aware of his personal space when doing so. Similarly, he’s improved with quick compliance in the sense that it used to take him a little while to actually follow through with what he was being asked to do, whereas now he’ll quickly comply. If he gets points off during the day (since our main reinforcement system is based around receiving and taking away points), he doesn’t take it as personally anymore. At the start of the program, if he felt something was being taken away from him, he would feel insulted but try to cover this using a defense mechanism of “ “I don’t care about points,” often going out of his way throughout the day after the incident occurred to continue reminding counselors and other kids that not only did he not care about points, but he didn’t want them in the first place. After receiving parent feedback and finding out this was a common occurrence at home, we worked on getting Student B to realize minor critical feedback is not such a negative thing in the grand scheme of things. Throughout the program he made a concerted effort to improve, and it has shown in his progress. Student B’s emotional progress in terms of his tolerance for frustration has not only improved, but he’s overall had a substantial reduction in his emotional outbursts. His main focus moving forward should be expanding his emotional vocabulary to help him state what he’s feeling so that adults can help.
The above summaries of two out of the eight students’ progress above show just a small sliver of what the month July had in store for me. There was so much progress, so many improvements, that we decided to have a small celebration for this kids on the last day involving food, a slideshow, and the present each student with an award for something they worked hard to improve on. The counselors also presented each kid with a handwritten card detailing their accomplishments and what we were proud of them for (with the cards following a theme from their favorite book/movie/video game/animal). This part got particularly emotional because we knew this would be the last time a lot of us would be seeing our kids, and we were so proud of how far they’ve come.
The BUDS program was an incredible experience through and through. I entered this position nervous about how the reliance on such a tangible reward system would affect the intrinsic motivation for the kids’ behavior to improve. I was also nervous because this was the first time I, along with my co-teacher, were in complete control of a group in a classroom scenario. This was the first time all of the counselors has the opportunity to be at the helm of the classroom environment, fully in charge and making our own decisions on what we feel the children should learn and what expectations we would set for them to thrive most in said environment. With September and a new teaching position rapidly approaching, this opportunity provided invaluable experience with meaningful reflection on where and how student’s needed to improve, and allowed me to get comfortable with exercising classroom management practices to attain these goals. I was surprised by how natural it felt to converse with kids and develop bonds that would make them trust counselor advice/instruction in terms of their behavior later in the program.
A big realization I came to towards the end of the program was just how vital it is to reflect on the kids you have and where they are at in their entirety. It’s so easy (as I experienced first hand) to 1) place the blame on the kid and not yourself 2) focus on the negative and not the positive (and vice versa) and 3) make claims about the kids you want versus the kids you have (and by this I mean generally saying you wished your student was more of a certain quality, I’m not saying wishing you had another student). The whole point of programs like this and school in general is to improve the whole student. These observations, like wishing a student was more kind to their peers, are useful so long as the teacher puts to work a course of action and believes in the child’s success.