Collaborative Learning Programs: A Successful, Cost-Effective In-District Solution

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Wheeler’s Collaborative Learning Programs (CLP) offer school districts in-district alternatives to out-of-district placements. The CLP model utilizes a transdisciplinary team approach to provide direct clinical and special education services to high-risk students with serious mental health and behavioral challenges who struggle to succeed in traditional academic settings. This innovative partnership between school districts and Wheeler provides a cost-effective in-district solution to best meet student, family, and district needs. Recognizing that the needs of each district are unique, Wheeler works collaboratively to design and provide customized programming within a supportive and trauma-informed framework, effectively meeting the unique needs of students, and creating efficiencies in educational expenditures. CLPs:

  • Reduce the need for out-of-district placement
  • Improve academic performance
  • Reduce truancy
  • Reduce disciplinary referrals
  • Create positive partnerships between school districts and families

Jon N. Oddo, MS, CAGS
Vice President/Principal
Northwest Village School
91 Northwest Drive
Plainville, CT 06062
Tel: 860.793.3781


Wheeler’s CLPs serve special education students in grades K–12 with significant mental health needs that impact their ability to learn in traditional academic settings.

Many of the students served have experienced unresolved or untreated trauma and may be:

  • oppositional and at times threatening
  • emotionally and/or behaviorally dysregulated
  • non-compliant/disengaged from academics and not working to potential
  • socially challenged and/or disconnected from staff and positive peers
  • truant and/or missing classes on days they do attend

Typically, many of these students are considered for outplacement in a private special education school at significant cost to the district.

To prevent the need for outplacement, CLPs focus on:

  • Social skill development
  • Anxiety reduction
  • Impulse control
  • Anger management
  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Empathy training
  • Values clarification
  • Life skills
  • Goal-setting
  • Societal consequences
  • Decision-making
  • Emotional and behavioral regulation


Trauma-informed Relational Approach
Transdisciplinary Teaming
Wheeler’s Clinical Expertise
Enhancing District Expertise, Curriculum and Coursework
Family Engagement
Student Engagement and Classroom-based Therapeutic Intervention


Wheeler has repeatedly demonstrated that high-risk students with significant mental health and education needs can be successfully programmed for and sustained in their home school district.

In recent years, students involved in Wheeler's Collaborative Learning Programs experienced reductions in unexcused absences and discipline reports.

Students in Wheeler's CLP saw a 29% reduction in unexplained absences.Students in Wheeler's CLP saw a 62% reduction in disciplinary reports.

Many students also remained in their home districts, and the majority of students remained in school either until graduation or until mainstreamed. A notable amount of students also had an increase in their grade point average (equal to at least one letter grade) since entering the program.

Ninety percent of students in Wheeler's CLP remained in their district school.97% of students in Wheeler's CLP remained in school until graduation or mainstreaming.


Students in Wheeler's CLP saw a 14% increase in GPA.Students in Wheeler's CLP saw a 44% reduction in disciplinary referrals.



All Collaborative Learning Program staff and involved district staff receive training that encompasses a variety of areas related to working with high-risk students in the district. Wheeler draws on its extensive pool of clinical and educational resources to execute this training plan. Based on the program’s focus and structure, Wheeler works with the school district to develop a comprehensive training plan and schedule. At a minimum, CLP pre-service training topics include:

  • CLP model design
  • Creating a Therapeutic Milieu in the Classroom
  • Enhancing High-Risk Student Engagement and Motivation
  • Crisis Prevention, De-escalation and Early Intervention Techniques
  • Utilizing Relational Interventions in School Settings
  • Maintaining Confidentiality and Professional Boundaries
  • Engaging Building Personnel to Support In-district Programming for High-Risk Students

Trauma-informed Relational Approach

Since most high-risk students have experienced some form of trauma, trauma-informed strategies, practices and interventions are the foundation of Wheeler’s CLP model. Wheeler helps students:

  • Develop meaningful relationships, the single most important factor in helping high risk students
  • Focus on relational approaches and whole-person care
  • Develop skills in the areas of emotional and behavioral regulation, social skill development, self-esteem building, and decision-making
  • Maintain accountability

Transdisciplinary Teaming

CLPs feature a unique transdisciplinary team approach that blends educational and clinical strategies to meet each student’s individual needs. Transdisciplinary teaming requires program staff, school staff, community providers, and parents/guardians to draw from and integrate expertise and experience from each of their professional disciplines and/or roles. Expertise from staff trained in individual disciplines is modeled and shared with all team members, which allows each to develop a working knowledge of other areas of expertise. This broadens everyone’s skillsets, enriches strategies, and improves student outcomes in and out of the classroom.

Wheeler’s Clinical Expertise

Wheeler provides experienced clinical staff and a clinical manager who work as part of the transdisciplinary team along with the district’s classroom teachers, paraprofessional staff, school social workers, school psychologists, guidance counselors, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and building administrators to ensure that student needs are met. These staff work in tandem to ensure that the school program provides the necessary level of support, structure and consistency required for success, as well as to ensure model fidelity. Wheeler’s clinicians facilitate team member interaction, consultation and integration of expertise from professionals involved to put transdisciplinary programming into action. Clinical services are an integrated and supportive adjunct to each student’s education and are provided directly within the school environment to offer immediate access to consistent mental health services to students in the program, as well as provide classroom staff with team support throughout the school day. Clinicians also provide input regarding therapeutic intervention and other strategies to engage a particular student or strengthen the therapeutic nature of the classroom. Specific services include:

  • Individual Counseling
  • Group Counseling
  • Family Counseling
  • Crisis Intervention
  • Case Management
  • Aftercare Services

Wheeler Clinicians: minimum of a Master’s Degree in psychology, social work or a related field who are either licensed/license-eligible or certified. In addition to providing direct clinical service, the clinicians provide clinical consultation in weekly team consultation meetings, direct intervention in the classroom milieu in milieu-based programs and case management to coordinate service delivery both in and outside of school.

Wheeler Clinical Manager: provides clinical and program consultation, as well as weekly clinical supervision to Wheeler’s CLP clinical staff throughout the school year. The clinical manager holds a minimum of a Master’s Degree in a clinical field and is either licensed or certified. The clinical manager has extensive experience working with children with special education needs, families and school systems.

Enhancing District Expertise, Curriculum and Coursework

School districts have a wealth of talented special education teachers and paraprofessionals who are extremely dedicated and skilled in meeting the needs of most students classified as having special education needs. Yet, some students’ needs are so complex that even the most talented teachers struggle to meet their needs with traditional supports and programming. Coupled with the skills of Wheeler’s school-based clinicians and CLP model, district teachers are able to experience success with many of these students, avoiding the need for outplacement. The curriculum and coursework for the Collaborative Learning Program is provided by the school district. Modifications to the curriculum are made via an IEP. While the special education teacher is the lead in this regard, the clinician is present in the classroom to provide support to students and classroom staff.

Family Engagement

Active family participation is an integral part of each student’s individualized plan. Families are encouraged and supported to become involved in all aspects of the program. They are viewed as part of the transdisciplinary team and are empowered as a vital voice to help make decisions regarding their child’s educational and clinical programming. Identifying and addressing potential barriers to active parent participation, such as language, transportation, finances, and child care, enables families to willingly and actively participate in these supports. Every effort is made to identify educational training opportunities available in the community for parents. Families are also offered short-term, solution-focused counseling with their child when indicated. When needed or deemed beneficial, in-home family sessions or meetings are offered help to remove barriers to family participation.

Student Engagement

Program success depends not only on external opportunities and controls, but on the student’s investment in his/her own success. In addition to active involvement in the development of his or her plan, students are encouraged to set personal goals and to monitor progress toward meeting those goals. Student engagement is a key element in addressing school truancy issues. Along with following district policies and procedures regarding truancy, Wheeler offers a structured process for addressing truancy and developing an active intervention plan. This process is focused on early intervention, family involvement, thorough assessment to identify specific precipitants that contribute to truancy and successful intervention strategies, and involvement of community providers. The CLP team actively works with students to increase engagement and attendance through the use of several strategies.

Classroom-based Therapeutic Intervention

Classroom-based therapeutic programs are designed to work with students who struggle in mainstream classes and require a smaller, supportive, structured and consistent learning environment in order to experience success. In these types of classrooms, it is important that all aspects of the school program assure and promote the physical safety and psychological well-being of clients and staff. Therapeutic classrooms:

  • Prefer crisis prevention over crisis intervention
  • Utilize the relational strength of each team member to prevent crises from arising, as well as de-escalating them if they do arise
  • Prevent negative student behavior through enhanced student engagement
  • Focus on the principles of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), as well as relational and trauma-informed models.
  • Focus on strength-based interventions
  • Utilize restorative approaches, as opposed to punitive measures
  • Hold students accountable for their behavior, while maintaining respect and support
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