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O’Connor Academy for the WIN

We're only human. No one can come to school or work operating at 100% every single day. It's not attainable. But taking that into account presents an opportunity. What if we had a program that could help us transition from whatever outside factor is influencing our behavior at the beginning of the day, into engaged employees and students who are ready to pivot? O'Connor Academy is four months into a program that’s working to meet students’ basic social-emotional and sensory needs right off the bat.  

It’s called WIN or What I Need – a half hour chunk of time to exercise, play music, talk, read etc. to refocus students’ mindset. “Whatever happens at the end of their school day, all the way untill seven o'clock in the morning, they want to unpack that. So, they were seeking out Principal Frenzel and their counselor or other students and they were not in their home rooms,” explained Clinical Therapy Department Coordinator Jamie Wing. “So ultimately, they didn't get questions answered that they needed to. They were seeking what they needed in a non-functional way and then they weren't ready for their first period classroom. We really had to think about that.” 

During the 2022-2023 school year, Principal Mark Frenzel reached out to the Behavioral Health Services department and related service providers to see what it would take to put a system in place. The goal, over time, is to teach students self-regulatory skills through a series of interventions and activities that will prepare them for the day, and that they can return to throughout. O’Connor Academy asked students to complete a screening survey with that in mind so that they could have a list of activities that meet students’ sensory and social-emotional needs. Principal Frenzel and the team OCA assembled even worked with Bird/Morgan School to identify the needs of eighth graders coming into O’Connor Academy this school year.  

The survey helped OCA direct every student at the high school into groups based on their interests – and then it was up to staff to help them get WIN groups off the ground.  

“The work that the teachers and the related service providers did to get this up and running, and the knowledge of their students is the real reason why this is successful,” said Principal Frenzel. “The paras are all in, the associate teachers are all in, the related service providers are all in, and when you have that universal buy-in the students feel that!” 

“I think sometimes things like sensory or social-emotional – people tend to think that’s specific to Behavioral Health or that’s specific to clinical therapy, when really we can all support that work,” said Sarah Mclean, Behavioral Health Assistant Program Coordinator. 

This all-hands-on-deck approach began on the first day of the 2023-2024 school year and it’s here to stay with the promise that WIN will be evolving as the students evolve. Another survey was given out at the beginning of November and the students will be regrouped. “Just like our needs change, the kids’ needs change, and as the year progresses the kids will have the opportunity to join other groups, to provide interventions that are going to keep them regulated and ready for the day,” said Principal Frenzel. 

Moving forward, OCA will be working with Behavioral Health to add a larger social-emotional component, and they want to give staff the opportunity to self-regulate during WIN time too. The high school is tracking attendance data and how students say they are feeling at the beginning and at the end of WIN to help guide them in the future. 

The best part? O’Connor Academy is already noticing a change in its students. They've become more verbal about what they need, leading to staff being able to then better meet those needs, so everyone is set up for a successful day together.