FORT HOOD, Texas — For many parents of 5-year-old children, getting suspended from pre-kindergarten isn't an expected experience.
However, for Kandice Merrick's son, Khristen, in- and out-of-school suspensions were regular occurrences.
“At his age, and at the rate things were going with him, if I didn't have EFMP [Exceptional Family Members Program] and his behavioral specialist, he'd be on the route to alternative school,” said Merrick, a medical transcriptionist at the Carl R. Darnell Army Medical Center on Fort Hood. “With EFMP, they actually work with the kids on goals.”
Khristen Merrick begins his first day of pre-kindergarten Aug. 26, 2013, in Killeen, Texas. After enrolling in the Exceptional Family Member Program, Khristen transferred schools to get a fresh start. “He's been at Timber Ridge, which is his special transfer school,” said Kandice Merrick, Khristen's mother. “He had a hard time with the transition of being in school.” (Photo courtesy of the Merrick family)
With the assistance of EFMP, Khristen was able to receive the support he needed to improve his education experience.
EFMP is a mandatory enrollment program that provides medical, educational, housing, community support and personnel services to families who have members with special needs.
Department of the Army civilian workers are not required to enroll their family members in EFMP, however, Khristen must be enrolled because his father, 1st Lt. Korey Merrick, is a service member stationed at Fort Hood.
Like many children enrolled in EFMP, Khristen was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“Our number one enrollment is asthma, and our number two is attention deficit disorder,” said Stephania Williams, a social services representative and advocate with EFMP on Fort Hood.
Although Khristen excelled academically, his ADHD caused behavior problems at his school where the teachers utilize a color scale designed to track the student's behavior. For example, if a child received a blue color, the student was excellent; however, a red color meant the child received a referral and was sent to the office.
“Every day he was on red,” said Merrick. “She [Khristen's teacher] wrote why and it was: not listening, not following directions, talking loud. And my whole thing was it's more to it, as to why he is the way he is.”
In addition to his behavior problems, the school suggested Merrick take Khristen out of school after only being there for two hours a day.
“Instead of keeping him in school the whole day, they suggested Khristen go to school from 8 to 10, I pick him up at 10, and he does not have any school the rest of the day,” said Merrick. “How do you expect him to learn for two hours? How do you expect a kid to progress?”
To try and help her son, Merrick began doing research about her possible options and even considered moving to another school district.
After exhausting all other possible routes, Merrick took Khristen to see a behavioral psychologist who diagnosed Khristen with ADHD. Even though she presented Khristen's diagnosis to the school, they were still reluctant to work with her son, according to Merrick
After getting Khristen enrolled in EFMP, Merrick met with Williams and together, along with Khristen's behavior psychologist, they created a 504 Plan.
The 504 Plan is a plan developed for children with a disability and attends an elementary or secondary educational institution. The plan ensures the children receive assistance with their academic success.
In addition to helping Merrick with the 504 Plan, Williams pointed Merrick in the direction of Khristen's new school, Timber Ridge Elementary.
Since changing schools, Khristen has become overly excited about going to school, and he has had very few discipline problems.
“He looks forward to going to school now, versus before,” said Merrick. “He didn't have that drive, and you could tell he knew they didn't have any hope in him.”
Merrick said the school is more helpful when it comes to handling Khristen's ADHD. For example, during the day Khristen speaks with a counselor about his positive and negative behavior.
“I actually have to give thanks to Ms. Stephania [Williams],” said Merrick. “I didn't know what was offered and to what extent they would work with him hand-in-hand on his behavior.”
With guidance from Williams and the EFMP, Merrick was able to ensure her son was given a chance to be educationally successful.
“I don't know how many people are aware of EFMP, but I think they really should be,” said Merrick. “We have all types of families, and they need to know what's available to them, whether their child is autistic, ADHD or bi-polar.”
By U.S. Army Spc. Marcus Floyd
Provided through DVIDS
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