The news was bittersweet for Phyllis.* She was surprised, thrilled and excited that her daughter, Penny*, who six years earlier was struggling with educational success, had earned enough credits to graduate high school. But at the same time, this meant Penny would no longer be enrolled at CIRCLE Academy in Urbana.
"Thank you, Mr. Hogue!" Phyllis told the CIRCLE Academy principal. "Penny and I have been with you guys for six years. She knows nothing else and the thought of going on without you all is incredibly overwhelming."
Navigating the next steps into adulthood is indeed overwhelming and understanding all the resources available to support young adults is intimidating. But for CIRCLE Academy alumni, they are not alone in this process. CIRCLE continues to offer support, advice and sometimes just a listening ear, to alumni and their parents after graduation.
"Once in the CIRCLE family, always in the CIRCLE family," Mr. Hogue said with pride.
Six years ago, Phyllis enrolled her daughter Penny at CIRCLE Academy in Urbana (CAU) when her needs became more than her public school district was equipped to handle. CIRCLE’s excellent partnership with school districts in Champaign county allow youth, like Penny, to get the individualized support they need to thrive so Phyllis worked closely with the district and CAU Principal Mr. Hogue to develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that would address all of Phyllis’s concerns and offer educational support for Penny.
In addition to Penny’s educational challenges, her tendency to run away when situations became overwhelming was a major concern for Phyllis. You see, when in crisis, Penny’s mind would activate the flight section of her brain causing her need to physically run. CIRCLE staff quickly realized Penny was not running to a destination or from a person, but instead, her body was responding to how her mind handled challenges.
"Penny wasn’t running to any place, she was just running," Mr. Hogue explained. "With having a large and open campus, it was important we put together a safety plan to help Penny during a crisis."
The safety plan included a safe destination. Penny’s support team at CIRCLE knew they couldn’t always prevent her from running so they instead encouraged her to run to the playground in the middle of campus where it was safe. This directive not only gave Penny a target destination, but it gave her mind a goal as well. Over time, staff was able to provide new destinations right inside the school building, like the refocus room or her social worker’s office. And eventually, Penny stopped running.
The support Phyllis received from Cunningham and CIRCLE Academy was not limited to the hours Penny was at school. When crisis moments would occur at home, Phyllis was able to lean on staff to help her manage these situations and that support was invaluable to her. As Penny began to flourish emotionally, mentally and academically at CIRCLE Academy, Phyllis’s own feelings of being overwhelmed also began to ease.
"Thank you for everything you’ve ever done for me and Penny," Phyllis said. "I can never repay you for your services, but please know, we walk away with great love and respect for CIRCLE Academy. You’ve been my only family and I say goodbye with tears.... I love you all."
While it may be goodbye in terms of Penny’s educational experience at CIRCLE Academy, the support she and Phyllis receive from CIRCLE isn’t going anywhere. Mr. Hogue will continue to work with Phyllis to identify resources for Penny, so she can continue a track for success. Because that’s just what family does.
*Our story is real but name was changed to protect the privacy of our youth.