BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ - A program designed to deal with emotionally challenged youngsters is keeping more than a dozen students in classes at Ridge High School, instead of being educated outside the district.

Gerard Barone, executive director of Effective School Solutions, based in Summit, described his company’s work to the Bernards Township Board of Education on July 23.

ESS works with teens identified as having suicidal ideas, tendency to avoid school, aggression, depression, substance abuse and severe anxiety, Barone said. It’s designed for students who haven’t responded well to traditional school counseling and who could be considered for out-of-district education.

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Districts like to avoid the high cost of sending students out of district to specialized facilities. Keeping students within the hometown school also helps the teen be with friends, avoid a negative stigma and receive a tailored program the district can design and control.

ESS provides teaching staff with the skills needed to work with students with emotional and behavioral problems, Barone said. The program is voluntary and parents must agree to participate.

Barone said if five students avoid out-of-district placement for three years, it saves the district $1.2 million. The district paid ESS $275,000 in 2017-18 and has a $280,500 contract for 2018-19.

At the end of the school year, 17 Ridge High students were in the ESS program, with one assigned to an out-of-district placement, board member Beverly Darwin Cerner said. Fifteen students are enrolled for the fall, with seven additional referrals pending.

Barone said ESS program consists of a “constellation of things happening at once” -- group and individual therapy, crisis and classroom intervention, family therapy and support groups and even a summer program. Students receive three contacts a school day with ESS staff, including group therapy five days a week and family therapy for a 42-minute period once a week.

Barone said a survey showed that 100 percent of parents said the ESS program had helped their child.

Board member Karen Gray said ESS helps the overall guidance program because it deals with a small number of students taking up an inordinate amount of time for the guidance department, sometimes as many as 40 sessions a year.
ESS works in 45 school districts, primarily in New Jersey.