The New Hanover County community became aware that our young children present a much wider variety of needs than in the past that require a wider variety of interventions to meet those needs. Individual schools were poorly equipped to provide intense at-risk services to students in the elementary school and lacked the knowledge of how to access essential services for students. The district acknowledged that students with mental health disabilities, victims of abuse and neglect, and students in crisis needed early intervention to treat the symptoms that generally manifested in poor behavior resulting in missed instructional time. The community also recognized that agencies needed to work in collaboration more often to promote early intervention.
Using the alternative school and day treatment model allows the school system to interface effectively with all community agencies that provide services to young children in crisis. Students can be referred to the program by schools, parents, private mental health providers, psychiatric residential treatment facilities or social services. The small setting at Lake Forest Academy, along with the small student: adult ratio allows for teaching of essential social skills and replacement behaviors that are required to receive instruction in the typical classroom. The therapeutic component directly addresses the psychological needs of the students who at a very early age are dealing with difficult situations that are affecting their proper emotional development.
The New Hanover County School Board initiated an elementary at-risk program in 2005. The Board, along with representatives from the school system and community, formed a committee that researched and visited existing programs. The committee presented their recommendations and the Board voted in favor of the elementary alternative school and day treatment model. The school board has been instrumental in the development of a program that met the needs of the community. The community was very vocal in its vision for Lake Forest Academy. The Board listened and acknowledged concerns of implementing an elementary program. They were determined that Lake Forest would not be a “dumping ground for bad kids” but instead a program that would be innovative and effective. The program provides a high level service to young children so that they will be successful in their future schooling.