RENEWing a Student's Sense of Purpose

RENEWing a Student's Sense of Purpose
Posted on 11/05/2015

By Lynda Koehler, RENEW Facilitator Coach and Trainer

As faculty and staff here in Worcester County Public Schools (WCPS) work to engage students for the betterment of not only their education but their future, exploration into new techniques and strategies are being conducted. One such program that has seen tremendous growth and success is RENEW.

RENEW, or Rehabilitation for Empowerment, Natural Supports, Education and Work, was developed by the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability, and it has been implemented in Worcester County Public Schools since 2013.

RENEW targets youth who may need guidance in engaging in school, work and community activities, developing positive relationships and/or completing graduation requirements.   The purpose of the program is to increase the likelihood of all youth to graduate from high school and secure employment, which dovetails into the Worcester 2016 strategic direction. WCPS is working in partnership with the Worcester County Health Department Behavioral Health (WCHDBH) to identify pathways to access mental health wellness and skills for seeking and maintaining employment in a rapidly changing global society.

A planning and engagement process, RENEW focuses on the youth’s strengths and fosters self-determination, linking the youth with resources to successfully complete high school and transition into adult life. Youth involved in RENEW learn to self-advocate and seek help in achieving their goals not only from their families and schools, but from community resources.

Worcester County Public Schools, with support of the Maryland State Department of Education and Sheppard Pratt Health Systems, has successfully trained 28 WCPS school staff, 11 WCHDBH therapists, 2 Maryland Choices Care Coordinators and 1 Maryland Coalition for Families Caseworker to effectively implement RENEW throughout the Worcester County community. Every WCPS middle and high school currently has at least one trained RENEW Facilitator on campus.

Once a youth is identified, a RENEW Facilitator explains the process and if the youth agrees to participate, the RENEW intervention begins. A series of colorful and graphic maps are developed based upon conversations of “Dreams”, “Who They Are Today”, “Strengths”, “Barriers” and other topics. Based upon the information identified in these conversations, the youth develops short term and long term goals, identifies people to share these goals and seek individuals that may be able to help the youth achieve these goals.

The exciting aspect of this intervention is that RENEW is empowering the youth to lead the process. Rather than adults telling youth what to do, the RENEW Facilitator listens to the youth and guides them through a process of discovering that they can achieve their goals. A high school freshman summed it up last spring when he said, “I now have a reason to come to school.” 

A mother of a middle school youth currently involved in the RENEW process stated, “I recognized immediately that this could be a life changing opportunity for my daughter and have not been disappointed.  I see the RENEW program as a potentially strong source of hope and positive reinforcement for my daughter that has been missing until now. It is something useful that she can benefit from. It shows her possibilities that are in reach.  That makes a mother's heart hopeful.”

For more information on RENEW, visit the website: renew.unh.edu, or contact me at the Special Education Department at 410-632-5039.