For years the Pinecrest Center was simply known as an alternative facility for the Aiken County School District. Now, it’s the Center for Innovative Learning (CIL) at Pinecrest and there’s a reason.
Over the past two years, the entire program has been overhauled, looking at greatly expanded ways to help return children to the home schools they came from and to improve their chances of graduating. These students may have behavior issues or have been excessively truant or have other issues.
The enrollment has tripled to 361 students at a roughly given time. Nearly 600 students overall will attend the school in 2012-13, either for short-term stays of 20 days, or for a long-term program. The principal, Ben Osborne, took that position in 2010, since then seeing the staff go from 13 to 52 to accommodate the increase in student population.
“The kids used to come here for the rest of the year, but it’s better to allow them to come and have consequences,” Osborne said. “They can earn the right to go back, and we’re transitioning so many back to their schools. The improvement has been tremendous.”
Pinecrest provides a School Intervention Team for a student and his parents. Other services include accommodations labs for a large number of special education students, computer-assisted and virtual instruction, instructional coaches, transition processes for the students and therapeutic counseling.
A key result is that the district has seen a 50 percent decrease in expulsions, and during a presentation to the Aiken School Board last Tuesday, board member Richard Hazen gave the center a lot of credit. The results are even better at Pinecrest itself, Osborne said.
“My biggest concern my first year was that these kids need counseling more than anything to help them with their problems,” he said. “That year the expulsion rate was 25 percent. Now it’s seven percent, with three times as many kids.”
Pinecrest has also developed more opportunities to include parents and the community more directly in ways to help put children get back to their home schools, said Jennifer Minichan, the district’s family and school-based counseling coordinator. Parents visit every five or six weeks to meet with staffers on their child’s progress, but also to explore ways they can contribute to that process themselves, said career specialist Charlene Peterson.
Last Friday, the Center for Innovative Learning hosted a group of parents for lunch. The purpose was to bring speakers from several agencies – among them the Megiddo Dream Station in Graniteville to help people who are unemployed. Other agencies included the Community Health Center; the Full Circle Refuge for at-risk boys 11 to 17; and Liz Morris, a community advocate who works with troubled teens at the Youth Development Center at Camp Long.
Priscilla McBurnett is the mother of Malcolm, a fourth-grader from Byrd Elementary School. He has been at Pinecrest for about four weeks and is doing well, she said. At a time when McBurnett is seeking employment, she was surprised to hear from Kay Benitez, the director of the Dream Station.
“It’s just a few steps from my house,” McBurnett said. “I’m going to see them.”