Focusing on individual student needs is a priority for all the administrators and staff working at Brookside Academy, which had a successful inaugural year during this past 2020-2021 school year.

Woodland Campus Principal John Droubie explained during the Cambridge-Isanti School Board meeting July 22 that Brookside Academy is housed at the Cambridge-Isanti Woodland Campus, along with the Moving Forward and Riverside Academy programs; those were already established programs. Brookside Academy is a new level 4 special education program that serves students in grades kindergarten through transition with all disability areas.

“As you probably know, there are not many level 4 programs in the state of Minnesota,” Droubie said. “So Travis Fuhol, our coordinator, accepted the position and he worked hard from the get go, before he was even on the clock. He’s done an outstanding job getting the Brookside Academy program up and going.

Fuhol said a priority for him when accepting the coordinator position at Brookside Academy was to start building relationships. He said approximately 20 students attended Brookside Academy in its inaugural year. He said he expects around 30 to 35 students to enroll in Brookside Academy for the upcoming school year.

“In a world of education, it’s about relationships and building community, so that was the first thing I wanted to do coming into this school and having conversations with John (Droubie) and our new staff that we had coming in,” Fuhol said. “We were thinking about some ways that we could build community and include everybody, not just teachers and support staff, but secretaries, custodial staff, county, mainstream and gen ed, and all those things to be able to showcase Brookside Academy and also be able to service our students.”

As for building community, Fuhol highlighted:

• All staff play a vital role in developing the relationship skills of our students. This encompasses not just teachers and support staff, but also custodians, secretaries, nurses, lunchroom staff, and transportation staff.

• The creation of nature walking trails, ski trails, and a community garden have contributed to building a strong foundation for Brookside Academy.

• Networking with general education staff, parents and outside service providers that include county services, Light-House, and probation have provided an integral support system for our students.

“Under the umbrella of COVID, we were trying to get the kids outside and moving as much as possible,” Fuhol said. “We made an effort to have group activities, but in a safe environment, and I felt like with nature walking trails we are able to do that and then we were also getting kids moving, which is also really important.”

Fuhol said he made networking with parents a priority.

“Right away in July, I started making parent contacts with incoming students. Most of our students came over from Rum River South, so they’re having to leave one building they were comfortable with and come into a new building and new program,” Fuhol said. “From a parent perspective, some of the parents were really apprehensive, so we had to build that relationship, which is communicating, open door policy, anytime they wanted to come in and check things out and meet with me. I made every concerted effort to do that, and I think that significantly helped our ability to build that relationship and our sense of community with our parents. And obviously our teachers and our support staff did the same thing.”

Fuhol described the Ready Body, Learning Minds movement that Brookside Academy embraced. He said all teachers were trained in the fall of 2020 on this program that focuses on motor lab goals such as:

• Help children develop the skills necessary for learning readiness and mastery of the environment.

• Improve each child’s ability to maneuver and function in their environment, leading them to better performances in tasks such as handwriting, sitting still, paying attention, speaking and behavior.

• Stimulate the child’s sensory systems.

• Cultivate the ability to better control themselves and accomplish tasks by making children aware of their environment and learning about the sensations of their own movement.

• Build a structure for the acquisition of academic skills.

“My background is in coaching, sports and activities, and I’ve always found that when you’re able to get kids moving, they tend to be successful,” Fuhol said. “I think most teachers in district are doing this, especially in the K through four grades I believe, so we were able to implement that there.”

Fuhol said one of the most important parts of the Ready Body, Learning Minds program is that it teaches students to be aware of their bodies.

“In our school, when they’re demonstrating behaviors, it is important to recognize when you’re getting agitated, when you’re getting nervous, when you’re getting anxiety and then being able to find the right coping strategies to that,” Fuhols said. “So this kind of starts them on that; being able to recognize how their body moves and acts and feels in different situations. So this played a really important part, especially in our K through probably 5 ages.”

Fuhol explained part of that program plays out in the building’s two sensory rooms.

“Those rooms are used to be able to give some of our students who are demonstrating anxiety or high energy a way to release some of that energy; we have swings and other manipulatives in there that help them regulate themselves but also become more aware of their emotions,” Fuhol said. “I think it’s instrumental in having our students be successful and not demonstrating extremely aggressive behaviors.”

Fuhol explained Restorative Justice was also an important program helping to lead Brookside Academy to a successful school year. The program includes partnerships with county social workers, resource officers and police.

He said all teachers and support staff were trained in August 2020 with additional trainings in the winter and spring of 2021. He explained the goals of Restorative Justice included:

• Information seeking from both victim and offender.

• Dialogue and problem solving between participants.

• Discovering solutions.

• Reintegrating and executing a plan.

• Implemented using social skills circle dialogue throughout the whole program.

“The biggest thing and the biggest walk-away from Restorative Justice is it’s information seeking,” Fuhol said. “So for example, a student demonstrates an extreme behavior; instead of ‘why did you do that?’ it’s ‘what happened?’ And it’s instantly trying to gather information and get their thought process and provide our thought process. It is time consuming, but the students have a voice, the victims have a voice, and then we’re able to come together and find solutions.”

By Harry