BKW addresses childhood trauma, which half of 7th-graders say they have

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Ashley Warren, Berne-Knox-Westerlo Secondary School social worker, describes how childhood trauma can impact students at BKW and across the country.

BERNE — Ashley Warren, a Berne-Knox-Westerlo social worker at the secondary school, told the school board on Monday that childhood trauma both in the district and across the country is a “nationwide epidemic.”

She went over the statistics of seventh- and eighth-grade BKW students who were interviewed in January: 21.6-percent of interviewed eighth-graders said that they experienced trauma; 51.7-percent of seventh-graders reported experiencing trauma.

Out of the 109 students interviewed, less than 7-percent are considered special education students, Warren said.

She added that the number of BKW students who have experienced trauma could be higher than reported because they may not have interpreted it as such.

Warren said that a traumatic experience can occur to a student from any background. She noted that what is traumatic to a student may not seem like trauma, but it is toxic to the brain. She said that symptoms of trauma often overlap with symptoms of disabilities like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, such as restlessness or difficulty focusing.

Warren said that BKW is addressing this issue in a number of ways, including having small-group discussions, hosting activities such as a food pantry, and creating the “Paws Place,” a room for students to go to “to take a breath, to take a pause.” Her room was accessed 57 times between November and March, she said.

When asked by the board about the reasons she believes this is an epidemic, Warren said she personally feels that adults have “done a lot of hand-holding and telling them what to do next.” She added that education needs to have a social-emotional component to it.

Surveys show a disparity between what students said they needed and what teachers said students needed, Warren said. Teachers said they thought stressors for students were mainly bullying, social media, and suicidal tendencies. Students reported that they actually wanted time-management and stress-management skills and relief from test anxiety.

At the meeting, BKW guidance counselors also went over what they are doing in the school overall. Personnel Pupil Director Susan Sloma explained that it has been a year since the district’s guidance office has rolled out a counseling program for children in kindergarten through 12th grade, as per state requirements.

Secondary school guidance counselor Karen Corso explained the different ways that services are delivered to students, ranging from classroom activities to referrals and consultations. Secondary school guidance counselor Alicia Caldara went over what data is being tracked.

Elementary school guidance counselor Lauren Larkin said that the guidance office will also be launching a website that will provide resources for a number of issues, such as homelessness, eating disorders, or being LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or queer/questioning).

Budget

Superintendent Timothy Mundell presented information on the district’s 2019-20 budget. With $23,432,123 in expected revenues and $23,487,186 in expected expenses — a 1-percent increase from last year — there is a $55,063 budget gap.

“The New York State budget is due on April 1st,” he said. “We’ve got to work to close this gap.”

In order to close the gap, Mundell is proposing a half-a-percent increase in the district’s tax levy. He said that $40,000 has already been taken from reserve accounts to cover the gap that had existed last year.

The superintendent said that the district’s proposed budget currently is using the governor’s proposed state aid. He pointed out that both the state Assembly and Senate have proposed a much larger share of aid for schools than the governor.

“What that means for us, we don’t fully know at this point in time,” Mundell said.

Mundell said that the district’s debt service will decrease by $1.7 million as some of the principle is paid off, leaving about $8.3 million of total debts.

He added that this year $450,000 will come off after a 2005 bond is paid; bonds for the district’s upcoming capital project will be added to the debt service.

“So it’s seamless and minimizes the impact to the taxpayer,” he said.

Some new items proposed in the budget include a second section of pre-kindergarten that would include $65,000 for a new teacher as well as a new math assessment program and new equipment. Although it is not included in the proposed budget, Mundell said he would also like to start a continuing-education program with about $25,000 to found it.

Board President Matthew Tedeschi noted that the $55,000 gap could be attributed to the additional section of pre-kindergarten.

Mundell said that the district is in good shape, particularly in comparison to neighboring districts that have had to cut programs to maintain their budgets.

The budget will be put up for public vote on May 21.

Other business

In addition, the board also:

— Approved a bus proposition to be put up for a vote on May 21. The proposition would authorize BKW to purchase school buses at a cost not to exceed $465,656; use $150,000 from the transportation reserve for the purchase; issue a bond for the remainder with the principal amount not to exceed $299,656; and levy taxes if necessary.

Mundell said that three 66-passenger buses and two smaller buses will be replaced, with the intention of beginning a seven-year replacement plan rather than a 10-year plan to save money and double the selling price of old buses;

— Approved the second and first readings of numerous board policies;

— Approved creating a boys’ modified soccer program shared between both BKW and the Duanesburg school district;

— Approved a year-end schedule;

— Approved allowing the district to host an emergency drill by the Albany County Sheriff’s Office; and

— Discussed an application for a “smart schools” grant of $800,000. Board member Helen Lounsbury expressed concern about a lack of progress.

Both Mundell and Tedeschi said that concerns about having to “spend money in order to get money” made it a lower priority, though Tedeschi asked that a monthly update be presented at following meetings.

Mundell told the board in December that the State Education Department has approved a technology plan that BKW submitted in October 2018. The district will have access for three years to $800,000 from the statewide $2 billion Smart Schools Bond Act, which voters approved in 2014.

At the same meeting, Mundell spoke of the “urgency” of getting paperwork submitted on BKW’s technology plan so it could be part of the capital project. Wiring is already part of the capital project, Mundell said, and there are thoughts of having interactive monitors in classrooms and hallways for break-out sessions.

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