UK College of Education Students Serve High-need Schools in Kentucky

Photo of Applied Behavior Analysis students
The graduate students are providing behavioral assessment and intervention support to teachers, parents, and other adults working with children with conditions that may impact academic and social functioning. Photo by Amanda Nelson.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 19, 2016) Instructional time for teachers is precious, and can easily get eaten away. Paper airplanes take flight, students hit one another, outbursts occur and conversations distract.

Some are cases of kids being kids. Other times, students are dealing with disabilities, and the interruptions can be frequent and severe. In any case, managing disruptive behaviors can be a big struggle for teachers.

A new Applied Behavior Analysis master’s program at the University of Kentucky is reaching out to help in these situations. Just in its first year, donations to the program through UK’s Women and Philanthropy Network have made it possible for graduate students to serve high-need schools where children and youth exhibit challenging behaviors. The graduate students are providing behavioral assessments and intervention support to teachers, parents and other adults working with children with conditions that may impact academic and social functioning.

Allan Allday, an associate professor in the Department of Early Childhood, Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling who founded the program at the UK College of Education, said these children may have an emotional or behavioral disorder, autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disability. Others may not have a diagnosis, but be stuck in a pattern of inappropriate behavior that can be remedied. In its first year, the program has served 19 schools, including some in Eastern Kentucky, where access to such services can be scarce.

“At one high-need school, our students worked with a general education teacher who was having difficulty finishing lessons because she was spending so much time managing problem behaviors,” said Allday, who is an associate professor in the Department of Early Childhood, Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling. “We developed an intervention plan for this teacher and, within two weeks, she was getting to finish lessons because the problem behaviors had decreased so much. Within six weeks, the students were earning extra recess. The class went from students missing out on instructional time to now having enough time be on the playground more frequently.

Not all graduates of the program will go on to work in schools — some will find jobs in private practice, where they will meet clients in clinics, home settings, and do contracted work within schools. However, much of the UK program is school-based because schools offer an ideal training ground for applied behavior analysis students.

“A school environment is more dynamic than working one-on-one with a client,” Allday said. “Plus, it allows us to make an impact on the state by providing a service some districts may otherwise not be able to afford.”

By the time they graduate from the rigorous year-and-a-half program, each student will have spent 1,000 hours working in schools and related settings, at no cost to the clients. Each student is supervised by faculty members at no cost to students. Private supervision normally costs $100 to $125 per hour.

“When we are asked to visit a classroom, it’s usually at a time when the teachers and administrators are at a loss,” Danielle Crawford, a student in the program, said. “They’ve tried multiple approaches to no avail, or they’ve reached a point where they need to teach a skill or address a behavior that they don’t feel they have the knowledge or training to do. We can help, and that provides a sense of relief.”

Crawford, originally from Flemingsburg, Kentucky, has worked in the field for six years since graduating with a psychology degree from UK in 2010. She is pursuing the applied behavior analysis master’s degree to further her career. Following completion of the program, graduates of the master’s program sit for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) examination.

“Our field is science-based, but when you put it into practice, it doesn’t look like what we traditionally think of as science. We work in the real world and not a controlled laboratory setting. We learn how to apply the science in an ever-changing environment, and that’s how we affect change,” Crawford said. “On top of behavior management, our field has provided years of research on effective strategies for teaching academic, social and self-help skills. But first we have to manage problem behavior, especially in schools, because that hinders the learning.”

Crawford has a soft spot for the underdog.

“It took a village to raise me, so I know what it means to have someone be there for you,” she said. “There are many kids who have a ton of potential, but there’s something holding them back. Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes, an outside perspective, to help eliminate the barriers so they can grow.”

The program not only trains students to apply skills in the field, but also to be research practitioners. Each student is engaged in research activity with faculty members and is doing his or her own thesis. This helps instill in students the importance of staying up to date on research throughout their careers. An applied behavior analyst’s job satisfaction often comes from the success stories. One faculty member recalled a student who had been hospitalized several times because of his behavior disorder. After working with the student, he is now able to function in a general education classroom. The ultimate goal is to help children and youth learn academic and social skills that allow them to be as independent as possible throughout life.

Faculty leaders hope to continue to expand the reach of the program. Donations to help further the initial investment made by Women and Philanthropy will allow more graduate students to complete their studies and the intensive practicum experience in high-needs schools. To donate, contact Jeff Francisco at 859-257-2479.