Keystone Freedom Academy Foundation
Keystone Freedom Academy Foundation Is a Non-Profit Foundation with a Mission to Support Keystone Freedom Academy and Our Growing Students and Community!
Keystone Freedom Academy has partnered with TriCounty Community Network (TCN) to support the foundation in meeting its mission through fundraising to provide students at Keystone Freedom Academy with resources that will advance their hands-on learning experience
Keystone Freedom Academy is for students who face social, emotional, and behavioral challenges to find freedom within their education and to create lifelong success. Through social-emotional learning embedded within rigorous academics including the implementation of mindfulness, restorative practices, positive behavior interventions and supports, Trauma- Informed Care, and the hands-off practice of Ukeru Behavior Management System; we offer students the freedom to access their education and the opportunity to grow into productive members of society.
KFA, as it has been affectionately named by its students and their parents, was founded in 2018, as an alternative to the “Special Education” model schools in the region. While many Special Education schools strive to create a different environment and may use techniques such as restraints to control student behavior, KFA’s founder, faculty, and staff believed that there was a better way to help at-risk and special education students find a path for a successful education and life. KFA’s program is intended to help the students find their strengths, cope with challenges, and return to their home school district equipped with the tools to effectively re-integrate into “mainstream” school environments and educational opportunities. With an emphasis on respect for self and others and the belief that every person is endowed with gifts, KFA’s success rate is unprecedented.
From a vision to a fully functional school, KFA has refurbished an office building in Bucks County Pennsylvania to serve those students in the Greater Philadelphia region that would otherwise be left behind or placed in schools and detention centers for children with “problems.”
Central Practices and Value Systems Drive KFA’s culture and approach:
Positive Behavior Supports and Interventions are designed with the idea that it is better to reward positive behavior than punish negative behavior. It is a multi-tiered approach to improving behavior in school and beyond. The success of PBIS rests heavily on its consistency and as a result, KFA integrates PBIS in classrooms, counseling, recreational activities, and in each interaction with each student.
Ukeru is a hands-off, restraint-free form of behavior management for students with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges. Negative behaviors cannot always be avoided, those behaviors are treated as a mistake or heightened emotion, rather than a disciplinary action calling for an extreme response. All staff at Keystone Freedom Academy are trained in Ukeru Behavior Management. Ukeru is designed to focus on comfort rather than control. The system works to educate the adult on how to best help the student self-regulate and to be sensitive to the unique needs of the student.
Mindfulness, at its core, is a practice in staying in the present moment and training your brain to create space between an action and your reaction. We use mindfulness as a tool for students to be able to access their education more effectively and to self-regulate when they experience heightened emotions.
Restorative practice focuses on the importance of relationships and prescribes research-based methods for repairing any harm that may occur in a community. Restorative practices are integrated within homes, businesses, and schools across the world to maintain a positive community and help people interact with one another in an effective and respectful manner.
Our Unique Curriculum:
The Keystone Freedom Academy curriculum is a comprehensive and structured approach that identifies broad instructional goals, specific objectives and competencies, and instructional materials that are aligned with the Pennsylvania Core Standards. KFA utilizes research-based programs that have been evaluated by the Institute for Education Sciences and What Works Clearinghouse as indicating ‘strong’ evidence for effectiveness. The use of clearly defined standards allows for clarity and facilitates measurement of effectiveness. Neuroscience research continues to show a significant link between a child’s ability to manage their emotions and learning. Studies show that when children experience multiple stressors in their environment, their brain releases a stress hormone called Cortisol. Cortisol physically blocks the circuits of the brain for learning and memory. When children learn how to manage their emotions, it improves their concentration and ability to learn. Social and Emotional Learning is no longer just a good idea, it is critical to the academic, personal and career success of our children. Social and Emotional Learning has proven to show a decrease in behavioral problems, emotional distress, and an increase in standardized test scores, attitude about self and others and emotion regulation. Furthermore, social and emotional skills are critical for our success throughout life. Research shows that it is our Emotional Intelligence that accounts for more of our success than IQ. If we think about it, what makes us successful in careers and relationships is our ability to relate to ourselves and others, work in a team and communicate effectively. Social and Emotional Learning skills can be taught just like cognitive skills and the more children practice them, the better they are at them. The problems we see in our schools and in our communities are a direct result of people not being equipped to respond in healthy ways to stress and environmental challenges. This stress is a barrier to our children’s ability to learn, but it can be addressed through well implemented Social and Emotional Learning programs. Keystone Freedom Academy is providing students strategies to address these issues and develop positive social-emotional skills. Through Trauma-Informed Care strategies, Restorative Practices to hold staff and students accountable for actions, School Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, Ukeru/non-restraint behavior management, and project-based lessons with Social and Emotional Learning integrated throughout the curriculum. Social and emotional strategies are taught to students throughout the day including lunch time topics such as: communication, problem solving, decision making, self-management, and peer relations.
In addition, our curriculum is structured to provide students with authentic project-based learning experiences incorporating technology that support them in developing skills needed to be successful upon leaving Keystone Freedom Academy. Teachers and instructional staff have the autonomy to design and implement lessons that best meet students’ needs. Professional development for all staff will be provided throughout each school year focusing on instructional strategies that encourage students to explore, collaborate, and design while completing hands-on project-based lessons with emphasis on science, technology, robotics, engineering, mathematics and the arts. For example, students can collaborate with a company developing Hydroponic and Aquaponic environments presenting unique opportunities for developing meaningful and future-focused skill sets to be prepared for tomorrow’s workforce. The field of Indoor Agriculture involves both simple and advanced technologies and integrates diverse disciplines from science and engineering to horticulture and food distribution. This helps engage learners of all types, providing them hands-on experience in diverse skills across the entire value chain of localized food production. This indoor ecosystem offers a unique platform on which to deliver career-relevant content and 21st Century skills development in a diverse spectrum of STEM fields. Project-based learning models and the diverse technologies employed in Controlled Environment Agriculture are combined to provide students with unique exposure to accessible real-world skills in relevant technologies in a range of potential career pathways. Working in teams to care for fish and plants while growing food and other agricultural products like house plants, flowers, herbs and spices provides learners with tangible outcomes and applications for a variety of STEM-based and experiential applications. This experience will provide students opportunities to partner with community businesses such as flower shops, restaurants, farms, interior decorators, entrepreneurs, nutritionists, chefs, and restaurant managers while incorporating engineering, science, math, research, writing, reading, and technology into the learning.
Growth and improvement in the students’ performance is evaluated through objective, quantifiable measures that are then analyzed, and utilized to support students in the advancement of their academic and life goals. In addition, the team at Keystone Freedom Academy communicates regularly with each family and community support members to foster a multidisciplinary approach in educating the students to achieve the levels of learning and performance expected of them.
KFA cultivates a small student to teacher ratio to allow for deep relational education for each student. With a 6:1 ratio, teachers reflect that they know every student on campus and work as a team to ensure that the student experiences holistic education, support and help to achieve their goals in education and life. Teachers share accounts of students who keep in touch beyond leaving, return for safe environments and advice, and spend time with teachers and other students hiking and finding stress relief from their lives out-of-doors after school.
Teachers and counselors at KFA all express an unparalleled team environment. From an instructional assistant dealing with a student who loses control, to creative sharing of ideas for improvement for each student, teachers dream of a maker space, wood shop and other hands-on activities for students to help them find and nurture their individual gifts, and to provide creative and healthful outlets for stress.
The Middle States Director of the Accreditation Team shared the following in their recent review:
Middle States Director:
“I want to share with you some of the things your friends, family, and colleagues said.
- At this school, we work together and it is a happy place.
- We work hard to support each other and the students.
- The school lives its mission and philosophy and holds an emphasis on academics with behavior skills engrained.
- We want to be the best option for students in need of our program.
- I never thought I would be coming to school and now I am even looking at college.
A second job is to highlight the amazing things that the school is doing as well as make recommendations to help in ways it can improve. There are many amazing things that are happening here at the school every single day and we tried to outline them in our report, but we wanted to highlight some truly exceptional things that were observed.
- The atmosphere of the school is welcoming and one of positivity.
- The people that make up the school have a strong commitment to what makes this school unique.
- The Leadership Team is incredibly strong and focused.
- The school has created a safe and comfortable environment for the students.
- The leadership team for developing the behavior program that is in effect.
- The entire school for supporting the families of all the students wherever they can
Two seniors who graduated in 2020 had experiences that they would not have been able to participate in if they had not attended KFA. One of our seniors was convinced that the only profession he would be able to do was cutting grass and weeding for a landscape company.
After having multiple meetings with the student we discovered what he really wanted to do with his life after school was to be a barber. This student has a physical disability that was prohibiting him from building the confidence needed to pursue his desired career. Finally, we were able to connect him with a barber school who supported him working through his challenges to graduate last year with completing his degree and finding employment. KFA paid the tuition for this student so he would be able to realize his potential. This student came to us from a detention center for multiple drug and assault related offenses. His transformation has been incredible.
Another senior who also graduated in 2020, wanted to be a funeral home director. We had no idea the level of requirements necessary to even get into a training program for this career option. We were able to secure an internship with a local funeral home where she was able to learn about all aspects of preparing clients for their end resting places. She was present for autopsies, cremations, purchasing caskets, preparing bodies, and even assisted with numerous funerals on the weekends. Without the support of an already established funeral director, students cannot attend post-secondary training for this occupation. The director at this facility graciously agreed to sponsor this student and pay for her education. He also plans on hiring her for a position upon successful completion of the program.
As a young school KFA has done a herculean job of creating space for a gymnasium, outdoor recreation space, and safe spaces for students to calm themselves after a difficult moment. However, many needs remain on their list to fulfill the goal of creating a holistic experience for the most promising but at-risk students referred to KFA.
TCN offers its partners an opportunity to participate in the amazing raise. Keystone Freedom Academy – The Amazing Raise (amazingraisetricounty.org)