Unique opportunity allows interns to create curriculum

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Residential treatment centers in Utah employ educators who can teach in an individualized way, blending treatment and learning to make a difference for at-risk students.

Kevin Kuykendall, academic director at Telos Academy in Orem, described the differences between the learning typically seen in a public school and the kind he sees at the private academy he now supervises.

Public and private schools differ in methods of individualized learning for each student and average class size. (AP Photo)

“The relationships are stronger,” Kuykendall said, “and the outcomes are greater.”

Kuykendall came to Telos with over 20 years of experience in public school teaching and administration, and he now enjoys directing with greater focus on students’ individual needs.

Telos is a privately owned residential treatment center serving approximately 60 teenage boys and is one of many private schools that cater to students with special needs. Conducting a search for “residential treatment centers” in Utah Valley returns 50 results including Telos.

Tyler Youngbull, a senior studying secondary science education at the McKay School of Education, began his internship with Telos this year. Youngbull worked for over two years as a residential mentor at Telos and heard about an open position at the school just as he was about to begin his student teaching at Lakeridge Junior High.

“It was difficult,” Youngbull said. “I had to go talk to the school (BYU) and ask them if it was possible (if) I could switch from student teaching to an internship and let them know that it would lead to a job.”

With the agreement reached by Telos and the McKay School administrators, Youngbull will graduate in June with his teaching degree.

Jay Oliver, director of student services for the McKay School of Education, classified this as a unique exception.

“McKay School has a partnership of five school districts that we work with primarily,” Oliver said. “We would always try to place in the public school first. Depending on circumstances as they arise, we take them on a case-by-case scenario.”

Whether Youngbull will be sufficiently prepared to be a teacher in public schools is the McKay School’s concern. While he develops his curriculum mostly from scratch, Youngbull’s directive from Telos is to follow the core prescribed by Utah’s department of education. However, smaller class sizes of eight to ten students and a year-round teaching schedule present unique opportunities.

“I just really like it because it gives me time to learn different teaching styles,” Youngbull said, “because a lot of the boys learn differently, and so with a small classroom I can zone in on how they learn and I can prepare myself to teach in different styles.”

Brian Walker, who graduated in 2007 from BYU with a degree in history teaching, says that at Telos he can control the depth and the pace of his teaching because the school is not as burdened by standardized tests as are public schools. “Which is really comfortable for me,” Walker said, “because I never feel like I’m teaching them information just for the sake of them hearing it and just having to regurgitate it on an exam or some sort of assessment.”

Walker took most of the month of October to turn the teenage boys’ focus to the 2012 presidential election.

“They’re going to remember that unit four years from now … because we got so integrated in it,” Walker said. With his four years of teaching at Telos, Walker observed, “We can definitely learn on a schedule, but it’s not very natural.”

Kuykendall proudly declared that his eight full-time teachers are the best teachers in Utah.

“Our team is good at developing strong and healthy relationships with students,” Kuykendall said, “and helping them reach their ultimate potential.”

Teachers at Telos are trained to individualize education, and their students’ educational achievement is supplemented by the treatment programs and other staff.

“One thing that public school teachers never get enough of is support,” Walker said of the mentoring that happens outside of class. He described the teachers and staff at Telos as a tight team. Walker knows the struggles his students face and sometimes attends group therapy sessions with them.

Youngbull plans to spend several years with Telos, before completing a master’s degree in school administration.  He said he hopes to someday become a high school principal. This year he is most excited about the new chemistry lab in his classroom that is nearing completion. “It’s going to make science really fun for me and the boys.”

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