Home on the Range students are seeing major changes in their academic life this year, which staff attribute to changes in the students’ grades.

Home on the Range is a ranch in Sentinel Butte that provides education, therapy, spiritual guidance and recreational and work activities to the adolescent boys and girls it serves, many of whom have experienced trauma.

Last fall, the school sent out a survey to its stakeholders to get a sense of how the structure of the school day worked for the students at Home on the Range, given their various needs. That feedback influenced the changes they made.

Until this year, students at Home on the Range attended mixed gender classes. Now, classes are split by gender.

“Separating the sexes was critical,” Principal Chris Kittleson. “We had more boy/girl drama and ‘you’re going out with my boyfriend drama’ (last year) … There’s still drama, but on a scale of 1 to 10, last year was a 9. This year is a 2 or 3.”

Home on the Range Executive Director Dr. Mel Rose said another one of the benefits of dividing the students this way is that the significantly smaller class sizes mean the students receive more individualized attention.

“For these kids, that’s so important,” she said. “They have difficulty staying on task, many of them are on (individualized education plans); they have legitimate learning disabilities.”

Males and females attend class at different times.

“During the morning, the boys from Home on the Range attend academic classes from 8 in the morning until 11:15. During that same time slot, the girls are participating in a variety of different types of therapeutic groups and activities. Then, in the afternoon, the schedule flips,” Rose said.

This arrangement also makes for a much shorter academic day, as the students are no longer in class from 8 am to 3 pm.

The class periods themselves are shorter as well.

“Instead of (each class) being 52 minutes, it’s down to 23 minutes. … They’re in self-contained classrooms, so there is no direct instruction or direct teaching going on. They’re given a lesson, and then they’re working. In the prior years, … they would get done with their lessons very, very quickly, and then there would be a fair amount of down time. With down time, there are challenges that take place,” said Kittleson.

Rose said the shorter class periods work better for the students at Home on the Range.

“I think it’s a much better fit with each child’s attention span. We were asking them to sit and stay on task much longer than they were capable of, through no fault of their own,” she said.

The new schedule shortens their entire day, as students no longer have to participate in therapeutic activities after getting out of school at 3 p.m.

“They’d be worn out. We all looked at this and said, ‘How can we make this better for our students?’" Kittleson said.

Although the school year is just one quarter in, Kittleson said they have already seen improvement in the students’ GPAs.

Home on the Range students attend classes there, as well as at Beach High School’s East Campus and regular education classrooms, depending on the level of care they need, with the students at Home on the Range being the most challenging or the most in need of structure.

“Currently, our kiddos at BHS, their quarter grades were 2.92, so almost a 3.0 GPA. Those two young ladies are knocking it out of the park. Compare (that) to last year, (which) was about 2.3,” Kittleson said.

Rose said the number of suspensions has decreased.

“It’s really paying off. We’re seeing the benefits of daring to do things differently,” she said.

Both Home on the Range and East Campus have a teacher, paraeducator and educational liaison in the classroom.

“Behaviorally, we now have more people in the classroom to intervene earlier on, with the primary goal of helping them regain their composure, regroup so that they can maintain or sustain the rest of the day in the classroom,” Rose said.

Sometimes that means removing them from the classroom briefly.

“We also have the ability because of (the educational liaisons') presence to take them out of the classroom for a small period of time, and to help them … calm themselves down,” Rose said. “Sometimes you have to give them a degree of separation from the classroom, but the ultimate goal still is to get them back in the classroom that same day. It’s just more options for supporting not only the kids, but the teachers as well.”

Another important component of behavioral intervention is building relationships with the students.

“At the end of the day … the relationship is truly the most important thing ... It’s about forging a good relationship with these kids because that’s the most powerful change agent,” Rose said. “When a child’s upset, if he or she can kind of lean into that relationship to help themselves regroup, it makes a world of difference.”