How Learning Can Be Part of Healing: A Q&A on Newport’s Educational Model

How Learning Can Be Part of Healing: A Q&A on Newport’s Educational Model

At Newport Healthcare, academic and life skills education is an integral part of the treatment experience. Our whole-person approach recognizes that learning, like every other aspect of a young person’s experience, is inextricably intertwined with their self-esteem, well-being, and sense of empowerment. As teens and young adults progress in treatment, we see their engagement and joy in learning return. 

We asked several of our educational professionals to share what brought them to this field, how Newport’s academic program is different, and what they find most rewarding about working with young people on their journey of healing.

What makes Newport’s educational model unique, and how does that inform your work? 

Ryan Fedoroff, Director of Education: Our approach is strengths based. In a typical classroom, everything is focused on what a student can’t do well, and that narrative starts to get ingrained. We flip that narrative and that negative internal dialogue by focusing on what each kid is good at, while acknowledging that we can’t all be good at all things. The arts and creativity might be a high strength, and math might be a lesser strength, rather than a weakness. We also focus more on students and less on curriculum, and we have more one-on-one time, so we can provide tailored interventions to address our kids’ specific needs and improve their skill sets. 

With young adults, the goal is to help them gain independence and autonomy. They learn life skills, organizational skills, executive functioning skills, financial literacy, how to socialize and collaborate with people, how to manage their time, how to ask for help. If they’re having trouble launching successfully, or maybe they’re in college but they’re floundering and not showing up to classes, we help them build accountability and recognize all that they are able to accomplish. 

Andrew Fisher, Teacher in our Connecticut residential program: Our educational model is individualized for each student, which is essential in supporting them and meeting them where they are on an academic, emotional, and social level. We work with a range of students who have learning differences, emotional dysregulation, behavioral struggles, and all different levels of function in the classroom. Some students find school to be a trigger, or they are truant prior to coming to us; others are excelling in multiple AP courses or even college. Being able to build rapport and get to know the students on a personal level makes a huge difference, and that comes down to creating a safe space for them. Only then are we able to truly help and guide them in the classroom by teaching them skills that work for them. As a math and science teacher, I also feel that I can engage students with one-on-one tutoring more than if they were in a large classroom: I can connect topics to their interests, which is one of the best ways to keep students engaged, interested, and learning.

Unfortunately, many mental healthcare programs do not offer as much time for education or as many supports in the classroom, which means students may need to postpone their education to receive the same level of mental health treatment that Newport provides. Since our students often have anxiety around school, this is extremely helpful because it means they will not have to make up all their work when they return to school. 

Leslie Canin, Lead Teacher in our Northern California outpatient program: If a student feels confident about their academic program, they have more space to focus on their mental health—we help facilitate that confidence. We create a therapeutic environment in our classrooms that supports both emotional healing and educational success. We focus on academic goal-setting, both short and long term, and we teach organization and advocacy skills. We meet the clients where they are at, and we tailor our support to meet each student’s individual needs. 

Desiree Nichols, Educational Supervisor in our Connecticut residential program: At a typical school, it’s difficult for teachers to work closely with guidance counselors to address each students’ needs because every counselor and teacher is supporting so many students. At Newport, our small groups and high ratio of staff to clients allow us to collaborate an on ongoing basis with the clinicians on each clients’ integrated treatment team, so the teachers and tutors understand what’s happening with each kid outside the classroom as well as inside it. We work together to help students build emotional regulation and healthy coping skills for the classroom—it might be a fidget toy on their desk or a customized “brain break” schedule, where they work for 20 minutes and take a five-minute break. We also collaborate with the clients’ home schools, so they can return after treatment having met the goals needed to stay on track with their education. 

What are the biggest rewards of working with this student population within the treatment setting?

Leslie: The best part of my job is seeing our clients heal, grow, and develop tools that help them achieve their goals and live their best lives. Our clients are amazing—bright, creative, insightful kids who show up every day willing to do the work. They are committed to their treatment, and so many of them leave our program with a newfound self-awareness and ability to advocate for what they need. It is so rewarding to be a part of that journey for them.

Andrew: As a teacher, I love watching the students grow both inside and outside of the classroom. A significant benefit for me is being a piece of that growth and support. I also have the privilege of working with parents and schools, so my particular role allows me to see how much the client heals and prospers from many different perspectives. The greatest reward is to hear from our Alumni team that a former student is thriving at home and accomplishing their dreams.

Desiree: When I was in the classroom, the biggest reward was being able to get kids who didn’t have any confidence in themselves to see that they could do something that they didn’t think they could, and how that helped them feel better about themselves and their skills. As a supervisor, with less time in the classroom, I’ve found it so rewarding to work with the academic staff, organizing trainings and helping them grow their skills to support our clients.

Ryan: Seeing that light bulb go on for the kids is what our teachers live for—whether it’s “I got the quadratic formula!” or “I was able to focus for the entire period and you didn’t have to redirect me.” Witnessing that pride and sense of ownership over their education is what fills us up. I still hear from many of our alumni—I recently wrote a recommendation letter for one of our graduates when he was applying to med school. There is nothing like seeing these kids grow and recognize their own personal potential and what they can achieve once they overcome their mental health issues.

What qualities do you see as most important for an educational professional working in this setting?

Desiree: Patience, flexibility, communication skills, collaboration, compassion, a sense of humor, and the ability to create a consistent and stable structure for the students. 

Ryan: You need to be passionate about working with this age group. You’ve got to be creative and able to think outside the box, and also be willing to work as part of a team—with a student’s therapists, care coordinators, and other clinical and nonclinical staff, as well as the other teachers and tutors. 

Leslie: A willingness to help others. Our clients need to feel safe and supported, and our education team is such an integral part of creating that environment for them. 

Andrew: I believe the most important quality for an educator is to be understanding, empathetic, and flexible for their students. At Newport, students are in treatment for a variety of reasons, but it is important to recognize that academics may not be their priority some days, especially if they are diving into trauma work or a family therapy session that afternoon. In many ways, our teachers are supports for the clients, and being compassionate for the children is key to their learning inside and outside of the classroom. Our teachers also must be willing to learn from our students and be flexible in teaching a variety of curriculums. On any given day, I might teach a student calculus, help a student with a health assignment, teach another student their times tables, then help two students with biology. Personally, I love this, because it starts some great conversations and learning with the students. The primary goal is to empower our students. If you have a passion for getting to know your students and supporting them with both academics and executive functioning skills, Newport would be a perfect fit. 

What brought you to this work originally, and what continues to inspire you personally?

Leslie: After 20 years as a classroom teacher, I felt ready for a change. I wanted to be able to work with students in a small setting, where I could really help make a targeted difference. On a personal note, I am in recovery myself, and I can empathize with what many of our clients are going through. I am inspired by my students and the work they do on a daily basis—they help me stay honest and accountable with myself as much as I help them.

Ryan: When I was a public school teacher, I taught 150 students each academic year, and I saw each student for an hour a day at most. My goal was to help change the life of at least one kid. At Newport, each teacher works with maybe 20 students a day, for several hours each day, so we’re able to have a much greater impact. We can see the transformation in a really short time as their self-esteem, motivation, and engagement with learning go up.

Desiree: Before coming to Newport, I was a high school English teacher in inner-city Connecticut, and then I spent five years teaching GED prep and credit recovery in a Connecticut prison facility. I’ve always been drawn to non-typical classroom settings, and I particularly love working with small groups of students. Being able to focus on just 16 or 20 kids and build relationships with them is so rewarding. 

Andrew: I have always loved science and math—although, like many high school students, I did not always excel in those classes. My goal is to make challenging school subjects more palatable for the students. I tend to be laid-back and fun, and most students know that I have a passion for teaching these classes with my silly math jokes. I have also always been drawn to mental healthcare and am currently pursuing my MSW. At Newport, I get to teach fun math and exhilarating science to a special population of students that I love to work with. In turn, I am inspired by their resilience and their ability to grow and thrive. 

Interested in a meaningful teaching career at Newport? 

Explore opportunities at our locations around the country.