“The Most Important Things In Life Are The Connections That You Make With Others”
-Tom Ford

During the 2017-18 Extended School Year Program, Jesse B. entered the Young Adult Program and my Homeroom for the first time. His cell phone was a huge distraction for him and he was having a really difficult time following staff directives related to storing his cell phone when he entered.  He would use inappropriate language when upset or frustrated and had difficulty maintaining personal safety. He was pretty creative in his use of inappropriate language, modifying a quote from our current President to say, “Ms. Releford, YOU’RE FIRED!!!” and would engage in other problematic behaviors in attempts to escape the initial staff demand to turn over his cell phone so it could be stored in his classroom mailbox. Jesse’s disagreement with the new “cell phone rules” is not uncommon among young adults his age; however, it was his level of reaction that was problematic. I wanted to work with Jesse to not only comply with staff directives regarding his phone but to find an equally motivating item that would compete with his desire to be on his phone.

Jesse hands over his cell phone in exchange for the tablet.

I consulted with Jesse’s S360 Behaviorist, Carolyn Lampf, M.A., BCBA, to identify what his personal interests were and what he liked to “do” on his cell phone. Carolyn helped me to get to know Jesse and shared with me that he enjoys all things related to WWE and Halloween. We figured that Jesse wanted to continue to listen to his favorite WWE music and watch his favorite WWE videos on his cell phone instead of handing it over to a classroom staff member when directed to do so. So, we thought that an “equally or more motivating promised item” would be needed to encourage him to independently and successfully turn in his phone.  I consulted with Bill Zaleski, a member of the Spectrum360 IT Department (and my husband), who helped me create a WWE Playlist and Video Library on one of our unused classroom tablet computers. Jesse was allowed to freely access the tablet during Homeroom as long as he turned in his cell phone to a staff member without engaging in any problematic behaviors. At that time, I had no idea that I would not only be creating a two-year personal connection between Jesse and Bill but would be opening up Jesse’s world to social opportunities with other staff members as well.

Jesse and “Mr. Z” review the WWE playlist on the tablet.

I’ll never forget the look on Jesse’s face the first time he realized that he had free access to a tablet full of WWE music and videos when he handed over his cell phone without displaying problematic behaviors! Jesse shyly asked Bill, “You like WWE too?” Bill, who is also a HUGE WWE fan, was prepped ahead of time to respond in an extremely positive fashion to Jesse’s questions. At first, Jesse would only approach “Mr. Z” if there were wi-fi problems with the tablet. However, they both quickly learned that they each enjoy current and the classic WWE wrestlers. Jesse was soon seeking out “Mr. Z” on a weekly basis to speak about the playlist and videos and to exchange quotes by their favorite WWE wrestlers. Since “Mr. Z” floats between the two A360 campuses, he suggested to Jesse that he also seek out Mr. Joshua Spellman, another A360 Upper School staff member who is a HUGE WWE fan. As a result, Jesse soon made another social connection with a male staff member based on common interests!

Jesse and Mr. Spellman wearing their WWE t-shirts.

Often, A360 staff struggle with having their students generalize their motivation to comply with directions across multiple situations.  That means it can be difficult for a student to transfer a behavior learned in one situation to other situations. However, Jesse’s mom, Lori Barbarisi, has shared with us that Jesse has now taken a special interest in laundering his WWE t-shirts and personally hanging and organizing them in his closet. He has been seen lingering over which of his WWE t-shirts to wear, and each evening and morning he chats about who at school he should talk to about them.

Fast forward to September 2018, the start of the A360 school year. Jesse had again been assigned to my Homeroom. He had continued to make progress in independently handing over his cell phone and following staff directives and I wanted to reward Jesse for his on-going self-improvement. So, upon consultation with Jesse and “Mr. Z”, we decided for Halloween to dress up as Classic WWE Wrestlers. “Mr. Z” chose to be Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Jesse decided on Brett “The Heartbreaker” Hart, and I chose to dress as Rowdy Roddy Piper. Mr. Spellman joined the fun and wore his favorite WWE t-shirt and displayed his giant WWE Champions Belt. Of course, this awesome Halloween costume planning would not be possible without the support of Jesse’s parents, Lori B. and Joey B.

A year and 1/2 ago, I could not have predicted the success of this behavioral strategy! Jesse is not only INDEPENDENTLY following his personal rules about the cell phone, but he currently chooses to talk to his fellow Homeroom students each day instead of accessing the WWE playlist. This WWE Playlist/Video Library has provided Jesse an opportunity to reach beyond himself and socialize with me, “Mr. Z”., Mr. Spellman, and other staff about WWE! We have also seen an improvement in Jesse’s speech articulation as a result of the MANY conversations based on these personal connections! They have allowed Jesse to practice his social skills, increase his self-confidence, and interact with a variety of peers and staff members.

As a Spectrum360 teacher, this experience has taught me that when teachers and other staff make a point of connecting with students as individuals, those students will feel valued, be willing to take risks, and ultimately thrive.

LindDSC_0155sey Releford is the Academy360 Upper School Young Adult Program Consumerism (Math) teacher.  She is currently in her 19th year teaching Special Education and her 12th year at A360 Upper School. She first discovered a desire to work with individuals with special needs when, as a high school student, she volunteered in an “Integrated Swimming Group” at her local YMCA. Lindsey earned her B.A. in Elementary Education and Special Education (K-12) at LaSalle University and will graduate in May 2019 with her M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Elizabeth.  To celebrate, in August 2019, she and her husband, “Mr. Z”, are planning on traveling to the coast of England.  In her spare time, Lindsey love playing with, Duncan, their Westie, who is now 11 years old but still enjoys chasing squirrels, rabbits, and stray cats. He certainly keeps them on their toes.