Evaluation of a school-based program for youth with emotional and behavioral disabilities

Pamela J. Goss-Power (2004)

This study assesses Valley Academy for Supported Education (VASE), a short-term, self-contained, public school program for children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral disabilities. Located in rural Charlestown, N.H., this special education program currently implements a highly structured, explicit behavioral program in conjunction with a results-driven core curriculum. Analysis of the program's theory of change is featured in order to describe how VASE understands the needs of the students it serves and conceptualizes how best to address those needs to achieve desired outcomes. Subjects included 41 elementary, middle, and high school students who were placed at VASE during SY 2001-2002 and SY 2002-2003. Using qualitative methods and descriptive statistics, the study sought to understand the social problem the program is trying to address and to link the needs of the target population with the rationale for the program design. In addition to describing student characteristics, questions were posed to assess facets of VASE's mission and goals, program structure, two challenging process elements (referral and transition back to the home schools), and preliminary outcomes. Current program elements were compared with seven defined targets of the National Agenda for Achieving Better Results for Children and Youth with Serious Emotional Disturbances (Chesapeake Institute, 1994) to specify VASE's accomplishments and strengths as well as its vulnerabilities and future challenges. VASE students exhibited highly complex constellations of social, emotional, behavioral, and academic needs. Six notable indicators suggesting serious, chronic mental health conditions were identified among a high proportion of the population. The study elucidates the staff's awareness of complicated student needs and, despite the strain this places on existing resources, staff s efforts to expand VASE's vision, mission, and design in order to meet student needs effectively. VASE classroom interventions are shifting towards those of evidence-based practices. Data suggests that staff make a good faith effort to provide programming for students in this Least Restrictive Environment with-in district, despite student needs that often exceed program resources. Recommendations are offered based on a synthesis of aggregate data from the study, the researcher's reflections on the needs of VASE students, and evidence-based practice presented in the literature.