Anyone visiting the lower school campus of The Forbush School at Glyndon last Wednesday would have been forgiven for thinking they were seeing a typical summer camp field day. Nearly 80 excited kids wearing t-shirts of different team colors (thanks to a Care for Kids grant), along with as many adult staff members wearing matching team colors, were engaged in cooperative team building activities. But looking closer, the visitor would have realized that this wasn’t summer camp. It was Sheppard Pratt Health System's original, and largest, day school for students with emotional disabilities and autism spectrum disorders enjoying “SURVIVOR: Forbush.”

What appeared to be a 3-legged relay, sack race, or egg walk were actually opportunities for serious learning. Many of these students had never before been able to participate in such things as field days, recess games, jokes at the lunch table, or group science projects because of their emotional and social challenges. At The Forbush School at Glyndon, vital skills—like handling challenges without getting upset, working together to problem-solve, using positive thinking, and supporting schoolmates—are practiced all day long. The Forbush School at Glyndon is a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) “Gold” school, using positive behavior interventions to teach and reinforce safe, respectful, and responsible participation in academic and social tasks, during every moment of the school day and in every setting.

This teaching was on display all day during the annual "SURVIVOR: Forbush" with no better payoff than seeing our own students shouting encouragements to their teammates. The learning continued when suddenly the entire school start applauding the cheerleaders themselves for being so kind and respectful toward their peers. It was a “field day” for everyone to see such a wide variety of students, of differing abilities, joining together with teachers, classroom and behavioral staff, clinicians, related service providers, administrators, and school secretaries, in practicing the skills that will help them find success in school and in the community. All this while having fun, and “nobody was voted off the island.”

Written by Kimberly Welch, Ph.D., senior psychologist at The Forbush School at Glyndon, and Kathy Ourand, M.Ed, principal at The Forbush School at Glyndon