Shelter Rock Academy director discusses benefits of the alternative program

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Herricks Board of Education President Brian Hassan, right, honored three student representatives Austin Kim, from left, Bhavesh Patel and Kaitlyn Louie, at Thursday's meeting. (Photo by Rebecca Klar)

There were no graphs, charts or spreadsheets in Allison Barshak’s presentation at the Herricks Board of Education meeting on Tuesday because she said her students don’t fit into a chart.

Barshak is the director of Shelter Rock Academy, a satellite program of Herricks High School that focusses on helping students cope with emotional issues. She presents an update on the program to the board and community every several years.

Barshak said a guiding mantra for the program is “just because my path is different doesn’t mean I’m lost.”

Adults, she added, get to choose alternative paths as they get older – whether it’s choosing not to attend college, or switching careers throughout life.

“We knew in Herricks kids needed a choice,” Barshak said.

The program started during the 2004-2005 school year exclusively for high school students, but was expanded in 2012-2013 for middle school students, as well.

Currently, the program has 41 students, 11 which come from out of district.

Similar programs to Shelter Rock are not found in comparator schools, Barshak said.

Unlike other districts’ programs, the focus isn’t on students with learning disabilities or with a history of acting out.

The emphasis is on helping fragile students gain self-esteem to help them succeed, Barshak said.

“If kids come to school and don’t feel good about themselves, it doesn’t matter how smart they are,” Barshak said. “It won’t sink in.”

While the program helps those in high school, since expanding to the middle school grades it’s been more successful, Barshak said.

“It’s easier to change bad habits when we get them younger,” Barshak said.

If students are identified as struggling they are recommended for the program, Barshak said.

Many of the students who join the program in seventh or eighth grade transition back into the mainstream curriculum by high school, Barshak said.

Barshak noted that the students in the program are average or above average intelligence.

Many, she said, just struggle with larger class sizes and other factors in the mainstream classes.

Shelter Rock allows students to get individualized learning with smaller class sizes, about seven students in each, to help them succeed.

Shelter Rock also tries to make each day fun, Barshak said, and includes project building and mindfulness activities to help students build healthy, coping strategies.

Going forward, Barshak said she would like to see the program expand to have an AP science class and more electives offered.

She also said she would like to add internships and service learning opportunities for the students.

Board President Brian Hassan said the program is great because kids need an alternative.

“Not everyone fits in a mold,” Hassan said.

During the meeting the board also recognized Herricks students.

Winners of the National History Day competition were honored by the board.

The board also honored four student representatives from the high school who take turns attending the board of education meetings.

Three of the representatives, Austin Kim, Bhavesh Patel and Kaitlyn Louie, were at the Thursday meeting.

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