Positive Impact, Growing Need Propel Great Circle Academy

When students with serious behavioral challenges have exhausted the programming options available to them in their home schools, Great Circle Academy (GCA) can provide the specialized help needed in a supportive setting. GCA’s dedicated professionals help these students address their behavioral and academic challenges, and develop the skills needed to power past them to graduate and achieve success in life.

Great Circle’s six GCA locations – in Columbia, Kansas City, Lebanon, Marshall, St. James and St. Louis – serve about 400 elementary, middle and high school students from nearly 100 school districts across Missouri. GCA is fully accredited by Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) and AdvancEd, organizations which accredit the region’s leading private schools.

The growing need for GCA’s educational and behavioral services in Missouri is evident. Great Circle initially centered its GCAs on its regional campuses in Columbia, Marshall, St. James and St. Louis. Since 2017, two new GCAs have opened – one in Lebanon that shares space in a Lebanon School District building and one in Independence as a free-standing school. Because of high demand in the Kansas City area, the Independence school has relocated for this school year to larger quarters that can accommodate its growth (see related story). (Chris, insert the link)

Great Circle’s Vice President of Education Mike Golden says what sets GCA apart is a team approach combined with trauma-informed training that enables the staff to best meet the unique needs of its students. As a team, teachers, classroom assistants and therapists work collaboratively with each child to balance academics with individualized and group therapy as needed.

Because all staff are highly trained in trauma-informed care, the classroom is a place where students can put aside past education challenges and learn how to build positive behaviors that lead to school success. "Our commitment to that approach drives us to provide trauma-focused professional development each month for our staff,” Golden explains. “As a result, our staff is able to provide a unique, positive environment for our students that helps them learn to love learning again."

GCA staff also emphasizes relationship building as a key element that bolsters the learning process. "When students believe that the teacher, classroom assistant and therapist understand them on a personal level, it builds trust and contributes to success," Golden says. "When kids feel comfortable, they are more likely to open up and talk about what is going on in their lives.”

“We know that when students act out it's usually because they are trying to communicate something they can’t verbalize or they want to avoid a situation that brings up past trauma,” he adds. “One of the most important things we can do is get to know a child’s individual triggers and the earn their confidence and respect. It's not about just reacting to a young person's behavior -- it's about understanding what is behind it."

Golden says the hope is that many GCA students eventually return to their home schools so they can have the experience of graduating with longtime friends and classmates. But, if that's not possible, GCA offers a complete K-12 curriculum that enables students to earn a high school diploma, and then move on to their next milestone, whether that’s at a post-secondary or trade school, or into the workforce. "For some students, GCA is their preference, especially as they develop a strong group of friends here. We support that choice and happily celebrate with each graduate," he says.

He notes that significant behavioral issues may often result in suspension in a traditional school, which often have limited options for alternative learning environments. So, the many districts GCA works with know “we are an option that can have a positive impact on students and help them stay in school no matter what challenges they are facing,” Golden says.

Seeing GCA’s impact is evidenced almost every time former students make a visit. Remembering a particular student who came to GCA when multiple behavioral issues and school suspensions created challenges for him, Golden says, "He told us that GCA basically saved his life. He said he would not have gained his high school diploma or the life skills he needed without our assistance. And even though he’s graduated, he still keeps in touch and knows our staff will continue to follow up and support his efforts to build lifelong success."