Collaborative Care Makes a Transformative Difference at the Ozanam Campus Day Treatment School

Student raising hand

For nearly 50 years, the Ozanam Campus Day Treatment School has been doing things differently to address its students’ unique behavioral and academic challenges.

Located on the southern edge of Kansas City, Missouri, the school provides individualized curriculum, small class sizes, and therapeutic support for students in grades 6-12 who have yet to find success in their regular classroom setting due to unique academic or behavioral challenges.

Some days, the school can feel like a transient place for students, with some kids who join the classroom halfway through the school year, some who attend part-time, and others who meet their goals and return to their home school district. Every day presents unique successes and challenges, and team members are not just aware of that reality but well-prepared to tackle whatever comes their way.

“Middle school is their best chance to transition back to their regular school,” said Danny McClain, a middle school teacher employed with Cornerstones of Care for 11 years. “High school is more difficult because the behaviors are dug in, but I have the chance to work on things they struggle with and give them tools to help them get back to their regular school.”

Danny has experience working with grade school students in a variety of settings, including twelve years in the Independence School District and ten years at Independence Academy. Before arriving at the Ozanam Campus, he also worked with grade school students at the Grandview Day Treatment Center, which equipped him well for his current assignment.

Within a few weeks of meeting each student, Danny gets a pretty good idea of what skills they are missing in the classroom and how he can help them close the gap. Key to his success as a teacher is providing structure and predictability for his students.

“The kids know the routine, they know what the expectations are, and they know what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable,” said Danny. “There are really no surprises.”

Danny has a “self-contained classroom,” which allows for small groups, one-on-one attention, and a close-knit classroom experience. Each classroom at the school is capped at ten students.

“In my opinion, that’s the best way to form relationships and get to know your students intimately – as well as their parents.”

Danny also relies heavily on the school’s collaborative care model to meet the mental, behavioral, and social needs of the kids. This student-centered approach involves the close collaboration of all team members – as well as each student’s support network outside the school – to care for them in a holistic manner.

Aaron Brocklin is a paraprofessional at the school and is one of many team members that Danny partners with during the school year to help students succeed.

Lara Scott, a full-time therapist, provides weekly therapy to students from all grade levels. Both full-time therapists at the school have approximately 18-20 kids in their caseload, but that number may wax and wane depending on the needs of students.

“If a kid is in crisis and wants to see me, I’m going to let them do that,” said Lara. “There are some kids who want more time and some who refuse therapy – which we allow them to do.”

Most days, Lara is not doing intense therapy but focuses on building relationships with the kids, developing impulse control and coping skills, and providing them with a safe space to work on skills without major consequences.

“I use solution-focused therapy,” said Lara. “We work towards small goals, focus on what works, or experiment with different things to find what works.”

Often, the work can involve playing games and doing activities with the kids. If the kids need in-depth trauma work, the therapists at the school encourage parents to connect them with an outside therapist.

The most crucial piece of Lara’s role is that she remains open and flexible to respond to crises and support other teachers and team members when they need a hand.

“I collaborate with teachers a lot,” said Lara. “I’m constantly talking with them about how a student is doing, especially if they’re having a hard time in class.”

Therapeutic care can look different for each student. Sometimes, it involves visiting the Build Trybe farm or greenhouse to destress among the plants. Other times, the various therapeutic and expressive therapy programs at the Ozanam Campus, including horticulture, music, art, and movement therapy, provide students with just what they need.

Danny has found that the Ozanam Campus basketball team is an essential part of keeping his kids on track.

“To participate, they have to keep their grades up, and that is something our kids really want to do,” said Danny.

Amber Oser is the Special Education Coordinator at the school and helps with the basketball team during the fall season. She is in her sixth year in her role and is involved with all aspects of collaborative care at the school.

“I help with the process of students coming in and leaving,” explained Amber. She is intimately aware of each student’s Individualized Educations Plan (IEP) goals and serves as a liaison between the students, parents, and school districts that contract with the school.

To provide high-quality collaborative care for students and families, Amber and other team members must also support each other and stay closely connected throughout the work day.

“We share successes. We share if a student has a weakness or if we see something. We all want to be that team that surrounds that student or that client and helps them be successful,” said Amber. “If I have a relationship with a kid, I can help foster that relationship with someone else, so they have two people that they can go to.”

For Amber, support for students might look like opening her office door so they can come in and chill out or do homework.

Amber, Danny, and Lara also stay closely connected with the parents of each student, which is one of the most important pieces of the collaborative care puzzle. 

“Almost all my parents are on speed dial, and I talk to them regularly, “said Danny. “It’s not always good, and it’s not always bad, but communication is key.”

Parents will sometimes text or call Danny to give him a warning if a kid has had a rough morning so that he can prepare. Similarly, team members occasionally notice a change in a student’s behavior and know it’s a good time to chat with one of the parents.

“It’s very difficult to be successful with kids if you don’t have their parents partnering with you,” said Amber.

It’s also important that team members at the Ozanam Campus are intentional about how they approach the word “success” and provide integrated care that operates with that reality in mind.

“With all of our students, they’ve been unsuccessful in various education settings, and when they come to us, we celebrate those small successes,” said Amber. “When they start to see themselves as successful, the sky is the limit.”