“Every single student, no matter how challenging his or her behavior, deserves the same amount of love and attention as any other student."
Clinical Supervisor Bright Futures Academy
As BFA’s Clinical Supervisor, Elaine May is a strong believer in a “trauma-focused” approach to counseling – a technique that uses deep empathy to understand student behaviors.
She has instilled an appreciation for trauma-informed protocols in her team of occupational therapists, counselors, speech pathologists and assistants. And it is the guiding principle for all facets of her job, which includes handling crises that occur during the school day.
“Every single student, no matter how challenging his or her behavior, deserve the same amount of love and attention as any other student,” she says.
May says it is this commitment that sets BFA’s staff apart from those at other nonpublic schools. And it is a principle that guides all facets of her administrative duties, which range from screening prospective students, making home visits when students are chronically absent, providing mental health training to the staff or briefing local school districts on their students’ academic and behavioral progress.
May says the BFA difference is obvious when she gives prospective parents a tour of the Riverside campus.
“If I walk a parent through the program, and they see the interactions with the kids, really the program just speaks for itself. They can see how we deal with challenging behaviors. They can see the love that goes into it.
“We’re not out there screaming at the kids to stop. We’re asking, ‘How can I help you? I’m trying to hear you. What are you going through? Share that with me.’ ”
May felt so drawn to the rewards of working with the BFA student population that she left a public school district job last April to join the Riverside campus, where she says owners Betti Colucci and Pamela Lamberth provide daily inspiration. She credits them with setting the standard that every student, even the most difficult, is worthy of respect.
And while some days are tougher than others, May says she and her staff keep coming back with the just as much enthusiasm and commitment as before.
That’s because they see a greater purpose in dealing with students that other schools and school districts can’t - or won’t - accommodate.
“Nobody has to do this,” says May. “This has to be a passion. You have to find your ‘why.’ That’s what makes you resilient.
“We are all here because we want to be there because we believe in the kids and see their potential.”
"What a regular school might call a negative, Bright Futures has turned into a positive"
"Every year she tells the staff it will be her last year - and every year she keeps coming back."
Speech Pathologist Bright Futures Academy
Marlene Polk is 83 years old and in her fifth year as a speech pathologist at Bright Futures Academy. Every year she tells the staff it will be her last – and every year she keeps coming back.
“What keeps bringing me back? The children, primarily,” Polk says. “Some of them call me grandma - and that’s OK.”
Polk does assessments and individualized education programs (IEPs) for the BFA students. Prior to working at the schools, she was a special day class teacher for children with communications problems in the Alvord Unified School District, as well as others in Orange County.
She found her way to the BFA campus in Riverside at the suggestion of a colleague.
“We were waiting for a meeting, and a friend said ‘Why don’t you go over to Bight Futures? Those children aren’t getting any services and maybe you can get a job.’ So I said, ‘Well, guess I’ll try that.’ I didn’t think they’d hire an old lady, but they did.”
Now five years since, Polk has become a favorite of students and staff. She’s worked with children from 3 years old to high school[AF1] . And while she said the students are more challenging than where she taught before, the work is more rewarding.
“The sense of fulfillment that comes from working with children, and seeing the progress they make day in and day out - that’s why I love what I do here.”
She also praises the approach that her BFA colleagues take with students who are so severely autistic or behaviorally challenged that traditional public schools can’t accommodate them.
“One of the things that really impresses me here is the way that the children are handled,” she says.
“You never, ever hear anyone raise their voice to the children. They deal with them in a respectful way. The staff is nice here. Always.”
Parent Partner Mountain Training and Counseling Clinic of Crestline
Lori Butler, a parent partner at the Mountain Training and Counseling clinic of Crestline, is quick to attest to how Bright Futures Academy can turn even the most challenging student into personal triumphs.
“What a regular school might call a negative, Bright Futures has turned into a positive,” says Butler.
She points to one case in particular: A former student from the nearby Rim of the World Unified School District. Here defiant behavior and habit of dressing up as a different character each day taxed the resources and skill level of the tiny rural San Bernardino district.
“She wears wigs, wears elaborate make-up and her wardrobe is driven by the diagnosis and the personality behind that diagnosis,” says Butler. “It’s an extreme diagnosis. But for that diagnosis, this is normal behavior.”
Butler was on the team that placed the student at Bright Futures, where the school’s highly trained staff not only took the student’s changing wardrobe in stride but found a way to channel her artistic talent in a more productive way.
After taking advantage of the vocation training available through Bright Futures, the student now works part-time as the make-up artist for a local theater troupe. She also creates exhibits for art shows.
Not surprisingly, her grades have improved as well.
“I’ve seen the student’s homework,” says Butler. “The student learns — really, really learns. There has been an incredible the amount of learning going on despite the disability.”
While the student represents an extreme example, Butler says Bright Futures has worked wonders with students from Rim of the World or other rural districts who have been diagnosed with severe autism, behavioral challenges, or mental health issues
“Bright Futures is an absolute delight to partner with because the staff and teachers there will do anything to accommodate the student. In an area where students can’t even see a psychiatrist in person, they’ll come get you in a van and transport you down to school and give you an education.
“And they treat the students and the parents with a lot of dignity. I’ve never seen anything like the dignity these kids — every single one of them — are treated with. You don’t find that out in the mental health services area,” adds Butler.