How schools are working with their communities to change behaviours

Programs with a systematic approach serve the community

Students learn about the CEBRIC program from Meaghan Shaver, coordinator and professor of the Autism and Behavioural Science Program at St. Lawrence College, in Kingston November 3, 2015. (Photograph by Blair Gable)

Students in applied behavioural analysis programs learn in-demand skills  (Photograph by Blair Gable)

As a recent graduate of St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ont., Kyla Venturini is in the fortunate position of already having a job in her field. In fact, she had a job before she even finished school last spring. As part of the college’s behavioural science technology program, Venturini did a placement at Nipissing Mental Health Housing and Support Services in North Bay, Ont., helping run a new residence for people with acquired brain injuries who are moving out of hospital care and into community living.

Venturini proved to be an invaluable employee—applying the skills she learned in her program in impressive real-world ways—and was hired full time as the complex-care coordinator. Now Venturini can see how both the college and the Nipissing mental-health services organization benefit from working together. “Placement students helped out a lot with the building of that new [acquired brain injury] program. It provided extra support,” she says, adding, “It’s an amazing learning opportunity as a student as well.”

That model of reciprocity between the school and surrounding community is at the core of CEBRIC: the Centre for Education, Behavioural Research and Intervention in the Community. The centre officially launched in 2013, after five professors spent six years developing it as a way of maximizing the expertise of St. Lawrence College in applied behavioural analysis (ABA). The school defines ABA as a systematic approach to “changing behaviour or improving the lives of people with addictions, autism, communication disorders, brain injuries, development disabilities, mental health issues, age-related dementia” or other challenges.

St. Lawrence College is unique among post-secondary schools because it has multiple ABA-focused programs: behavioural science technology, which was established more than 40 years ago; autism and behaviour science and behavioural psychology, which each started 10 years ago; and the communicative disorders assistant program, which began in Kingston two years ago. CEBRIC ties the ABA programs together with one strategic objective: to encourage research among professors that will, in turn, create placement opportunities for students and fill a need in the community.

Every year, more than 400 students enrol in one of the four ABA programs, and every one of them will complete a placement. CEBRIC has enhanced those opportunities, says Kimberly Bain, the centre’s project manager. “It’s expanding the reach of what we’re doing in our programs.” The Nipissing Acquired Brain Injury initiative was a CEBRIC project. So, too, was a 12-week anger management workshop called “SNAP: Stop Now and Plan,” which the college offered through a local children’s aid agency to benefit boys and their parents.

“Under the mentorship and supervision of faculty, the students were actually able to plan and deliver the sessions, and practice applying the techniques they were taught in the classroom about observing behaviour and evaluating whether the intervention was effective,” says Robin Hicks, dean of the faculty of applied science and one of the centre’s founders.

One important focus has been addressing the gap in services for children with autism and their families, either because of long waiting lists or because some children are deemed “high functioning enough that they don’t fit the funding model for particular supports,” explains Hicks. St. Lawrence College students are placed in local schools to assess the social functioning, communication and self-help skills of children with autism. The students then put together recommendations and strategies for the child that can be implemented in the classroom.

For Hicks, the launch of CEBRIC celebrates the work of students and professors, and creates a bridge into Kingston and nearby areas. “That is entirely the motivation for us,” she says. “It’s the combination of opportunities for our faculty to stay engaged with their clinical practice, the opportunities for our students to apply what they’re learning, and then to benefit our local community.”

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