SEEKS-funded behavior specialists making a big difference at East Allegheny

Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 10/6/2023

Alysha Scott (left) and Le Pham (right) pose for a picture

When East Allegheny acting superintendent Joe DiLucente returned to the district in October of 2022, he started to recognize an acute need for additional behavioral supports.

DiLucente, who was a teacher in the district for years before becoming the principal of Logan Elementary School and then the acting superintendent, said that there’s been an uptick in behavioral and mental health needs in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thanks to the Project SEEK SES grant, a partnership between the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) that addresses trauma, behavior and mental health issues in ten school districts, East Allegheny has been able to address those needs with two behavioral specialists, Le Pham and Alysha Scott, who started in the district this school year. Pham and Scott were both hired through Grade Point Resources, per a recommendation from the Burrell School District to DiLucente.

“I can report very happily that less than one month in, we’re already having very positive gains and feedback in terms of tangible support that behavior specialists are providing students, but also in that ever important court of public opinion where teachers feel very supported by having someone with a level of expertise who is willing to help in both direct and indirect ways,” DiLucente said. 

Pham and Scott echoed DiLucente’s thoughts. In a short period of time, they’ve found their footing and made a sizable impact. Their peers are noticing, too.

“Everyone has been very appreciative of everything we’ve done thus far,” Scott said. “They’re very vocal about it, and expressing how appreciative they are of us. They’re very supportive.”

Pham and Scott both serve Logan Elementary, although if there is a need at the Junior/Senior High School, Scott is there to serve double-duty, and help with both buildings. They provide support on a case by case basis, but behaviors that might elicit their intervention might include unsafe behaviors like elopement, self-harm or tantrums with aggression or physical aggression towards others.

Pham and Scott’s paths to this role are a bit different, but they both share a special care and interest for advocating and helping children who might otherwise have trouble advocating for themselves.

Previous to East Allegheny, Pham worked at Pittsburgh Public as an Educational Facilitator, effectively acting as a behavioral specialist, among other duties. Before that, she was a behavioral specialist in the New Kensington-Arnold School District. She also works a part-time job as a Behavioral Consultant/Mobile Therapist providing Intensive Behavioral Health Services to families. Scott recently achieved her master's degree and is working towards becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Scott has a child on the spectrum, which partially drove her to seek a career in her current field. Pham’s interest sparked when she was working at a learning center in a preschool classroom shortly after achieving her bachelor’s degree. Her experiences working with a child with medical and behavioral needs motivated her to go back to school and achieve a master’s degree for her current role.

“Whenever I continued to work with her in the classroom, I thought ‘oh man, there was something about working with kids with special needs that I had a high interest in,’” Pham said.

“I would say one thing that’s gratifying about working with kids with special needs is sometimes the kids don’t have a voice, and when you work with them day in and day out and you get to know them on a deeper level, you get to know what their strengths are and where their challenges are. To see their little progressions, it’s such an amazing feeling.”

Pham and Scott both work on a referral basis, doing functional behavior assessments and observations before collaborating with teachers to give recommendations on strategies and interventions to implement. Depending on the student, some interventions might include an incentive-based behavior chart for younger students, and check-ins to address coping skills for older students. Pham and Scott also help with classroom management, getting to know the students better and working with them on a one-on-one level to see what they might need.

Pham said she’s noticed a particular need for additional supports at the earliest grade levels, a need that has continued to increase in every district she’s worked in. Nevertheless, Scott and Pham are optimistic about the impact they’ve made and the progress to come.

“I keep telling the teachers to just wait. These kids are going to be different by the time the school year ends,” Pham said. “It’s not going to be an overnight magic pill, but I’m hoping they see the changes. I’m excited to see where these kids will be at the end of the school year.”

Beyond their direct work, Pham and Scott have made it a priority to pass on their knowledge and educate teachers on methods they can use in their classrooms. As East Allegheny continues forward with a special focus on providing additional mental and behavioral supports for its students, it’s that “all in this together” mentality that will be crucial in helping every student thrive.

“I think we’re making excellent progress, and the SEEKS grant has afforded us this opportunity quite literally because we are a cash-strapped district,” DiLucente said. “The SEEKS grant has filled this critical need quite well. It has certainly mitigated the gap that we felt with our funding shortfall and being able to meet the needs of our students.”