Vallejo school takes over teaching difficult, hyperactive children

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

Eleven-year-old Delcarlo McCullough knows he has a behavior problem and has days when he cannot control his temper.

He experiences moments of outburst that involve throwing desks or chairs inside a school classroom or, as happened once, throwing rocks and sticks.

Sometimes he wants to hit someone. And that's when he does.

Delcarlo has a learning disability and is haunted with fits of rage on a daily basis, he says, unless he takes his medication for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"I feel frustrated, mad. It's like all that anger when you get mad at someone, you can't get control of it and you can't deal with it. You try to hold it in for a couple of minutes, but you can't. It antagonizes you then you just want to hurt them and scream," he says of how he feels during those moments.

Delcarlo, a young boy whose attention span flits like a hummingbird, has experienced these traits since kindergarten. He is known to have blow-outs with classmates and teachers and will fight anyone who mocks his smile - a broad grin that flaunts a front tooth chipped from running into a pole two years ago.

He counts silently, his full lips moving with each number, 13 fights in two years.

His educational experience includes attending three separate schools before the school district referred him to Keystone School in Vallejo last year, a community-based non-public facility servicing "at risk" children and adolescents grades K-12.

It is here, he says with his speech drained of emotion, that he is learning to control his anger.

"I have big issues inside a regular school with my violence and temper," he comments while sitting inside the office of Dr. Tasha Dean, the principal of Keystone School, Vallejo. "I think here is a better way for me to learn. It helped with my anger."


A sleepy glaze covers Delcarlo's eyes on this damp and cold April morning as he sits quietly inside a classroom and listens to music.

The soothing sounds of "Just the Two of Us" by Grover Washington Jr. oozes from a small radio nestled on a wide windowsill. Delcarlo appears to get lost in the moment.

He is experiencing a "bad day," as Keystone's mental health counselor Kathy McBride put it, after facing roadblocks on a reading assignment. Earlier, Delcarlo felt a moment of desperation and walked out of his classroom, ignoring his teacher to visit McBride.

"Are you feeling better?" McBride asks him after a while. He nods his head.

"You have a lot of options. If you feel you're going to have bad behavior, you need to say, 'I need to take a walk.' We're encouraging you to do the right thing and we're going to help you get there," she continues. "You know you can always come here, right?"

This small campus on Corcoran Avenue is one of several in the

nationwide chain of Keystone schools specializing in helping troubled and behaviorally challenging children. The school, a division of Universal Health Services, teaches 26 students, according to the 2005-06 "School Accountability Report Card," of which 69 percent are of African-American descent.

Students are referred to Keystone through the Local Education Agency, or school districts, and are eligible for special education services.

"What makes our program different is that the kids here have severe behavior challenges," says Amy Albe, a teacher at Keystone who has been working with challenged children for 16 years.

"These students involve those who have aggression, truancy issues, conduct disorders and who are developmentally delayed with severe behavior problems, such as self-injuries, aggressions and issues where they need an intensive level of support than what they would get from a district program," she continues.

The school, which opened in July 2005, has a reinforcement system in place where incentives and privileges, such as school trips, are based on safe behavior, meaning the student has to meet a particular number of days without incident.

"That means no aggression toward anyone, hands to themselves, no property damage, no elopement, no theft and no out-of-the-seat," Albe says. "Those are all behaviors that lead to unsafe situations."

They are also rewarded with Keystone Bucks about every 5-10 minutes, where they are allowed specific times during the day to purchase snacks, including candy, soft drinks, hot lunches and juices.

"If they follow school rules and stay on task, they get rewarded," says Delcarlo's teacher, Theresa Kirchnerin. "They can use them to buy things but they're never taken away."

At home

Sometimes, Delcarlo goes home to watch cartoons or play games on his PlayStation. Sometimes, he works on his one sheet of homework. And then there are times when he sleeps.

Cassandra McCullough, a 40-year-old woman wearing a large T-shirt that says "Soul Sista," is Delcarlo's mother, a woman who speaks her mind in a moment's notice.

They are inside Jessie Mae Jones' house, an 89-year-old woman also known as Granny to the 80 children she has fostered since 1959, including Cassandra and Delcarlo.

Delcarlo, medicated and sleeping next to his mother on a plastic-covered couch, sits with his mouth open, oblivious to the conversation.

"I don't think he needs that medicine. Look at him, it's too strong for him," Jones says to McCullough in a voice as old as tales.

McCullough is giving him Syracol daily, she says, twice in the morning and three at night in a dosage of 100 milligrams each time. It is an over-the-counter cough suppressant with the stimulant ephedrine to treat children with ADHD.

"I know he needs to take some sort of medicine and I want him to have something," McCullough responds. "He could be out there playing then all of a sudden poof, he wants to blow up and fight everybody."

Such was the case when Delcarlo faced a 5150, when a professional person designated by the county admitted him to a psychiatric facility for treatment and evaluation.

"It was very nerve-racking," McCullough says, mentioning he was in the hospital for 14 days. "They had to take him down at the school and he was totally out of control. That's why he takes medicine. It balances him."

Although Keystone has been a good school to the family, McCullough believes there is room for academic improvement.

As of date, McCullough says, she has never received any reports or outlines from the school regarding Delcarlo's progress.

"I don't know what is going on. I've never seen my son write and he's supposed to be going to sixth grade. How is he going to sixth grade if they don't have an outline? They don't send me anything," McCullough says.

But Dean, the school principal, disagrees and says each of the families receive a report on the student.

"We have weekly statement reports that are sent home with the kids and in addition, we have to submit that to each of the districts that referred that student to us," Dean says, adding end-of-the-year reports are mailed as well.


Kochise Jones, a 13-year-old boy in Delcarlo's class who built a reputation as being a comedian, openly admits to making mistakes in the past.

"I've been in and out of four schools before coming here because I acted the fool," he says and stretches his arms out. "But I ain't acting the fool no more."

For more than 45 minutes, Jones, one of seven boys in a class with three teachers, speaks out loud and addresses his instructor, Kirchnerin, as "Yo."

"I can't do this work! It's hard!" he shouts to Kirchnerin. Calmly but firmly, she responds.

"You need to sit down and do your work," she says and walks away.

He laughs, stands up and begins to dance to the music in his mind. The loud shouts from the boys reverberate through the class.

Delcarlo, infected by the interruptions, begins to move around and neglect his task of reading "Today is 1871, when the first professional baseball league started."

"You have to be able to touch your desk at all times. That's your area," Kirchnerin says to Delcarlo, but he's not in the mood for reprimands.

"I went to sleep around midnight because I was at my cousin's house," he explains of his irritation and restlessness. "Sometimes I go to sleep that late."

Delcarlo then walks out to play a game of basketball.

"I'm getting my anger out!" he says as the door slams behind him.