Prioritizing Growth and Community: Individualized Student Support Services in North Tulsa

by Executive Editor Timantha Norman

The debate around how to properly support all students academically and otherwise has been raging for decades. When it comes to black students especially, the lasting effects of racially discriminatory educational practices, a lack of diversified resources being allocated to public schools in predominantly black neighborhoods, and educators from outside of the communities that they serve not being culturally competent, the educational outcomes have been less than ideal. In addition to these barriers, a 2017 Brookings Institute study stated that “The disproportionality literature consistently notes that children’s outcomes are causally affected by out-of-school factors such as poor nutrition, stress, and exposure to environmental toxins, and that exposure to these influences unduly affects poor children and children of color.”

I spoke with T’erra Estes, the founder and executive director of Teach Not Punish about her philosophy around wraparound behavioral interventions for students and the importance of a community-based approach to helping students overcome any challenge in reaching their full potential.

Norman: What was your professional background like leading up to the creation of Teach Not Punish? 

Estes: Before creating Teach Not Punish (TNP), I worked as an educator. I started off as a Paraprofessional working with scholars identified with emotional disturbance. After graduating from Langston University majoring in sociology and having taken 18 hours of special education courses, I became alternatively certified as an Inclusion Teacher. I also worked as a Kindergarten Teacher for a semester. After three years of working with exceptional children, I accepted a position as a Behavior Interventionist/Behavior Specialist in which I fulfilled a few positions with those titles over a four year span. While establishing TNP, I worked in Tulsa as a Behavioral Health Case Manager/Behavioral Health Rehabilitation Specialist.

Norman: The primary focus of TNP’s programming seems to be centered on your T.E.A.M.S. (Together Everyone Achieves More Success) Preventative Behavior Intervention Program. Could you talk more about the philosophy behind this focus and the intended outcomes of this program?

Estes: Our T.E.A.M.S. preventative behavioral intervention program has adopted the philosophy of Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS), which are proactive interventions created to prevent problematic behavior by teaching replacement behaviors. The key concepts of this model are that:

  • Children must be treated with respect and dignity. 
  • Skills and environment deficits impact behavior. Children misbehavior provides teachable moments. 
  • Children should and can be taught behaviors and skills needed for success because behavior change is learned.  
  • Collaboration within a team is critical. We must work together to meet the child’s needs and aid the child in behaving responsibly. 
  • Building relationships with children is imperative. Responsibility and motivation should be encouraged through positive interactions with the child because relationships matter. 

Based on this research-based approach, we believe that behavior change can be learned and, therefore, can be taught. 

We begin the behavior shaping process by defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate scholar behaviors in order to create a positive school environment. We implement a positive approach to shaping scholar behavior utilizing curriculum that teaches social skills through small group instruction and cooperative activities that will help scholars to self-regulate their behavior. 

Norman: Another aspect of the T.E.A.M.S. model your organization utilizes is an academic intervention component. What does this look like in a school setting?

Estes:  Our T.E.A.M.S. Academic (A) Intervention program focuses on small group tutoring using a web-based curriculum tailored to each scholar’s individual needs along with one-on-one tutoring opportunities. This program is complete with accelerated specialized learning for every K-8 subject with a focus on math and reading subjects. We also incorporate progress monitoring and positive reinforcements for added scholar motivation. We’ve currently offer this program as an after-school program to provide a remedial support system for academic improvement utilizing community spaces such as the Tulsa’s Central Library and the Greenwood Cultural Center’s library. Right now, we’re working towards offering this to scholars in our behavior intervention program at MacArthur Elementary School. 

Norman: In your organization’s literature, the importance of building healthy relationships with families and educators seems to be at the forefront of your work. Outside of the aforementioned core programming, what other ways does TNP engage with families, educators, and the community at large?

Estes: That’s a great question. At TNP, we understand the importance of long-term sustainability. Therefore, we provide immediate basic needs through our seasonal resource events. We have relationships with mental health providers and we encourage families to receive the continual support that may help them better adapt to the necessary lifestyle changes to have better outcomes. OSU-Tulsa and TNP established a partnership offering parenting support through a program called Oklahoma’s University for Parents, OK-UP. These partnerships support families by creating dialogue surrounding skill development and provide support during the learning process. Similar to the support system for families, TNP offers prevention and deceleration training strategies to educators and organizations that work with school systems to assist educators and school administrators with effectively verbally de-escalating behaviors in school settings. Not only do we provide nonviolent crisis intervention training, we also provide ongoing support to educators over a period of time after they finish learning the deceleration classroom management strategies. These interactions between families and educators create an opportunity to build positive rapport and foster healthy relationships. 

Recently, we’ve explored a way to provide educational opportunities to the community as a whole by improving access to information regarding our overall wellness and community engagement initiatives. We have occasional gatherings where we gather community members that have an interest in overcoming adversity and allow them to network and sharing the resources available in the Tulsa community with one another. 

Norman: What are some aspects of TNP’s approach to educational support services that you think distinguish it from what’s currently taking place in the general public/public charter school systems in our city?

Estes: School systems have prioritized social-emotional learning and a holistic approach to learning. These recent initiatives are like music to my ears because I believe that behavior is a prerequisite to increased academic performance. Through TNP’s programs and services, we aim to provide the programming and resources needed to produce behavior change in scholars, teachers, and families. We can be a necessary supplemental aid when community members are in a crisis at work or school that can help support them in overcoming adversity. We look forward to the longevity and the sustainability of TNP serving in the Tulsa community and surrounding areas for years to come. 

For more information on Teach Not Punish, please visit their website.