Student Benefits from Team Approach

April 17, 2019

In the midst of the bustling dining hall, 14-year-old Elijah says, “I felt ashamed.” He sits having lunch with his social worker and the director of recreation talking openly about how he felt when he first arrived at Green Chimneys three years prior.

When partnering with families, Green Chimneys uses a team approach

Elijah (center) and a few of several of the most valuable players of his team.

Leaving his home district of White Plains and commuting some 70 miles a day for school wasn’t a welcoming thought. For some time, Elijah had been struggling in school, having trouble establishing friendships, and needed a more supportive learning environment.

Upon arriving to Green Chimneys School, Elijah and his family met their dedicated team. His individualized education plan (IEP) became a universal game plan; his parents took the lead as head coaches and Green Chimneys staff introduced expert team players in education, therapy and more. Goals were outlined both academically and personally. Sessions on the farm opened Elijah’s world to equines; to this day he continues to enjoy walking and riding horses. In the classroom, he started to seek help when blocked and began to work on peer relationships. Ask anyone on Team Elijah what has single-handedly influenced Elijah’s growth at Green Chimneys and you’ll likely hear one word repeated emphatically, “Sports!”

Recreational sports have truly been a game-changer for Elijah. Because of sports, he’s gained confidence, and that increased self-esteem has helped him to build relationships with peers and staff. Elijah’s also developed a sense of belonging, that he is now part of something: a team. Whether it is football, baseball or basketball, sports have given Elijah the opportunity to experience success on the field or on the court in ways he hadn’t experienced in the classroom. “I feel more like a regular kid,” explains Elijah. “It feels like a normal high school. There’s more socializing… there’s practice and games… and Green Chimneys is my school.”

There’s no question about Elijah’s commitment to sports, and it doesn’t go unrecognized. “He’s a good athlete and also a coach’s dream because he is a team player,” explains Recreation Director Zac Staszak. “He’s had his ups and downs over the seasons but he’s always been dedicated to the team and that is what staff love about him.”

Ask Elijah’s parents what they feel has single-handedly changed Elijah’s experience at Green Chimneys and they, too, talk about the benefits of a team. “It’s the team approach here at Green Chimneys,” explains mom Cathy Nottage. “From his teacher to his social worker to his coaches, we’re all in communication and working together for Elijah’s benefit.”

Teamwork for the Win

Elijah in riding class

With mom and dad leading the charge, Team Elijah talks through what is working and not working at home, in the classroom, in therapy and in sports. His treatment game plan is tweaked as needed; messaging remains consistent and growth is supported. Mom and dad attend parent trainings led by Green Chimneys staff, solidifying the collaboration and further unifying the approach.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) has helped to equip Elijah with skills both on and off the court. In the past, a missed ball could result in him giving up and shutting down. Today, Elijah’s confidence has increased significantly. He utilizes mindfulness to remain present in the game and to react instinctively. Elijah’s using positive self-talk to reinforce what he already knows, I am good at this.

He’s showing growth outside of sports, too; building relationships with staff and peers, communicating his feelings, and taking ownership of choices. Elijah knows what he needs to work on in the weeks and months ahead to achieve his goals. “He holds himself to a high standard,” explains teacher Miranda Darcy. “Elijah understands that we’re all committed to helping him reach his goals, and he’s willing to meet us more than halfway there.” Whether it’s asking a clarifying question in class, squeezing in extra basketball practice, or owning a misstep with a peer, Elijah is finessing his approach to the game of life.

Elijah and his family are learning and growing with Green Chimneys. Their story is one of teamwork, commitment, and resilience. And thanks to this team, we are in the lead.

Green Chimneys School offers therapeutic education for students who have been unsuccessful in a traditional classroom setting. Explore our approach