Program History:  Connections Academy East (CAE) opened its doors on August 15, 2015 with 17 students between two programs with separate wings serving students with Emotional Disabilities and Autism.  Currently to date we have 114 students between the two programs with approximately 80 staff to date.

Connections Academy East (CAE) is a reclaiming therapeutic environment for boys and girls ages 6 to 21 placed by local school districts.  The children may have a special education eligibility diagnosis of one or more of the following categories. Emotional Disability, Specific Learning Disability, Speech Language Impairment, Intellectually Disabled, Other Health Impairment, Autism, or Traumatic Brain Injury.  Connections Academy East provides school, family and community partnerships leading to successful learning.

Mission/Vision Statement:

The mission of Connections Academy East is to integrate school, family and community partnerships in order to provide the highest quality academic and therapeutic programs.

These programs are designed to enable students to become successful learners through a sense of belonging, mastery, generosity and independence.

Purpose and Scope:

Connections Academy East operates on the principle that for students with severe emotional, behavioral, and learning disabilities requires meaningful participation from parents, mental health providers who work with the student, special education teachers and the students themselves.   Working together as a team enables the students to make progress in all areas and transition to a less restrictive environment.

Program Overview:

Classes are small (averaging 8-10 students) with an Illinois Licensed special education teacher and an instructional aide.  All staff meets or exceeds Illinois licensure requirements. Our school follows the typical school calendar with students attending 176 days at 6 hours per day during the regular school year and 20 days during extended school year for 6 hours each day.  120 students are grouped in age appropriate classes with no more than a four-year span in elementary/junior high classes (and no more than a six-year span in the high school classes).  Connections Academy East serves elementary classrooms grades 1-3, intermediate grades 4-5, and junior high 6-8 and several high school classes for grades 9-12. The elementary and junior high classes have a standard curriculum of Reading/Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and Physical Education.  Each student at Connections Academy East has an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) and services are provided based on the IEP that was developed by the placing district.

The High School curriculum parallels the basic offerings of local high school districts.   A variety of classes are available to meet individual student needs (as called for on the IEP) as well as graduation requirements.  These high school classes are departmentalized, which provided an opportunity for the student to rotate to subject-specific classrooms throughout the day.

Related Services:

A great deal of extra assistance is provided to help the students make progress in the general curriculum including providing breaks within the classroom, creating instruction with interwoven kinesthetic activities to provide for these children’s need for movement, as well as trained staff in sensory integration techniques in order to proactively disperse the sensory activities throughout the day.

Due to the nature of the student’s needs, a full continuum of related services is available including Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Substance Abuse Therapy, Psychological Counseling, Psychiatric and Psychological Consultation, and School Health Services.  Students will receive (on an individual basis) related services as delineated by their IEP. All students receive bi-weekly Art, and Music group and students from 7th thru 12th grade receive bi-weekly Substance Abuse Therapy. Students may also receive individual Substance Abuse Therapy as noted during their intake interview due to use of (non-prescription) alcohol or substances.  Based on Individual Therapist recommendation, students can also participate in Art & Music therapy on an individual basis in conjunction with group therapy.

Each student is assigned to an individual therapist who will meet with student to promote academic, personal, and emotional successes.  This therapist often acts as the primary liaison to the family in order to work collaboratively with the family system.  Students have group therapy three days a week, which takes place in the classroom with an assigned therapist and High school students can earn ½ credit towards their elective requirement every semester through personal development.  Students are assigned to appropriate group therapies based on the recommendation of their therapist and their school district. The primary therapists at Connections Academy East also has available the resource of outside program consultants with expertise in a wide variety of issues related to child and adolescent development.  Connections Academy East emphasizes the incorporation of the family in the treatment of the student. Therapists routinely offer family therapy to students on their caseload. If families are interested in this service, accommodations are made into scheduling of appointments.

In accordance with federal and state law, CAE does not predetermine any student’s needs by disability identification.  In partnership with our districts, we have found that students in several disability areas can benefit from our program.  Disabilities we serve include Emotional and Behavioral Disability, Autism, Specific Learning Disability, Traumatic Brain Injury, Other Health Impairment, Intellectual Disability and Pervasive Developmental Delay.  Each student’s need for academic instruction and related services is determined by the IEP team. Students will be placed in the most challenging academic courses appropriate to their skill level. No student will be assigned a related service based on disability category.  Every student will be provided every related service called for on the IEP. Related services are all done “in house” by our qualified staff at no charge to the parents.


Upon enrollment, Connections Academy East staff assesses the student’s functioning in academic, personal and interpersonal skills and provides programming that is developmentally appropriate through flexible groupings and departmentalization to meet different academic performance levels of the students.  Connections Academy East staff then continues to assess progress on each student’s goals on their Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) through a variety of methods including progress monitoring through our goal tracking system, Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments, curriculum based measurements, student point sheet, behavioral data (referrals to the behavioral office, classroom assignments and homework, and teacher and therapist observations.  Progress reports are sent to parents on a quarterly basis with mid-term progress updated every 5 weeks.

All students in grades 1st thru 8th grade receive daily instruction in English Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies.  The curriculum utilized in English Language Arts for grades 1st thru 4th is Pearson Reading Street and grades 5th thru 8th teachers utilized Novels based on students’ interests to accomplish the New Illinois Learning Standards.  All grades utilize Pearson EnVision Math 2.0 to provide rigorous math curriculum by incorporating project based learning and visual learning strategies to empower students.  Pearson Interactive Science is utilized for all grade levels and incorporates hands-on and virtual science experiments to provide an enriched curriculum. Finally, in Social Studies, Pearson My World combines storytelling, literacy instruction and a variety of resources to engage students.  Lessons include practice in reading and writing, collaboration and communication skills and applying inquiry. All Pearson curriculum incorporates a blended model of print and digital courseware and can be utilized on all devices. All instruction is tailored to the needs of each student. The curriculum content can be modified up or down based on the student’s ability.

High school students take classes based on graduation requirements and classes assigned after a complete evaluation of their transcript.  Some of the standard classes offered at CAE are English Language Arts (9 thru 12), Math (Algebra, Geometry, & Algebra 2), History, (World Geography, World History & U.S. History) and Science (Earth Science, Biology & Chemistry).  During English Language Arts students are reading novels based on grade level and incorporate differentiated instruction, higher order thinking skills and incorporate writing through read-world connections. Math, History and Science curriculum utilized is McGraw-Hill Glencoe which provides students with a rigorous curriculum, that brings the curriculum to life, empowers students to be successful both inside and outside the classroom, while providing a variety of online resources.  The curriculum engages the students with multiple practice opportunities, exploration, and visualization of concepts providing a deeper understanding with the ability to make a connection to their everyday world. The state graduation requires like Health, Consumer Education, Government, and Fine or Applied Art are offered based on evaluation of student transcript. Electives courses are offered in a variety of formats such as: online only through Edmentum courseware, during extended school year to meet graduation requirements and taught through direct instruction and hands on techniques, or a combination of the online courses through Edmentum Courseware and direct instruction.  

CAE is a 1:1 device school where students are provided with a Chromebook and GAFE account upon entrance to access the technology that is utilized throughout each classroom.  In conjunction with the curriculum, teachers also utilize a variety of technology to further enhance the current curriculum utilized along with game-based platforms to make learning fun.  Some of the technology utilized in the classroom are: Google Apps for Education, Read & Write extension, Kahoot, Prodigy Math Game, & Khan Academy, etc.).

Guided Reading:  Guided Reading is the cornerstone of our balanced literacy program.  The teachers provide small-group or one-on-one instruction at the Tier I level to our students in ways that allow them to observe their individual strengths while working toward further learning goals. Books are selected at a student’s instructional level so that with strong teaching, readers can meet the demands of more challenging texts over time.  Our teachers use a lesson plan template to incorporate key pieces of a quality guided reading lesson, as applicable. Readers are actively engaged in the lesson as they warm up with phonemic awareness activities, learn background knowledge of a topic, learn challenging content vocabulary, and learn how to take words apart, flexibly and efficiently, while attending to the meaning of a text. They begin thinking about the text before reading, attend to the meaning while reading, and are invited to share their thinking after reading. They deepen their understanding of a variety of texts through thoughtful conversation.  

Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System: This assessment elicits individual reading behaviors and relative strengths and weaknesses in the areas of comprehension and word processing to better target our instruction.  A comprehension conversation is embedded in this assessment, allowing our teachers to hear how the student is thinking within the text, about the text, and beyond the text.  An accuracy score reveals how well the student is processing the text.  Teachers analyze types of miscues made by the student: meaning, visual, syntactic.  This information helps the teacher form targeted lessons to increase word knowledge.  This assessment also serves to place our students along a Text Level Gradient to help match students to just fit books, and to plan for guided reading instruction.

LLI: The Fountas & Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention is a powerful, Tier II short-term intervention curriculum, that provides daily, intensive, small-group reading instruction. LLI turns struggling readers into successful readers with engaging leveled books and fast-paced, systematically designed lessons.  The purposes for using this curriculum are the following: to advance the literacy learning of students not meeting grade-level expectations in accordance with the Fountas and Pinnell assessment, and other formative and summative assessments, to deepen and expand comprehension with close reading, to elevate the expertise of our teachers in the field of reading, to increase reading volume by engaging students in large amounts of successful daily reading, and to monitor student progress using the built-in running records to gauge growth.

Lexia:  Lexia provides differentiated, supplemental literacy instruction for students in grades pre-K–12.  Lexia Core5 (generally younger students) and Lexia Powerup (generally older students) are quality, digital programs to assist teachers in helping students master five critical skills in order to become proficient readers: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.  Lexia provides explicit, systematic, personalized learning, targeting skill gaps as they emerge, and provide teachers with the data and student-specific resources they need for individual or small-group instruction.   Additionally, older students build higher-order skills they need to comprehend, analyze, evaluate, and compare increasingly complex literary and informational texts.  Real-time performance data is collected through Lexia’s embedded assessment tool, Assessment Without Testing. Our educators regularly access data reports online through their MyLexia accounts and collaborate on next steps to support individual student needs.    

Credit Recovery:  High school students who find themselves behind in credit due to failure of a class have the opportunity to take various courses online through Edmentum Courseware.  All the courses offered on Edmentum are aligned to the New Illinois Learning Standards and engage learners at all levels. The content can be customized by the teacher to include additional resources and provides the teacher the opportunity to make the content flexible.  The content also integrates assessments which allows the learner to move past the content that they have already mastered. By including highly interactive and video-enriched academics learners are provided an opportunity to make real-world connections. The student’s eligibility for credit recovery is based on an IEP team decision in accordance with district credit policies.

Clinical Model:

The students engage in an academically challenging curriculum emphasizing group instruction and hands-on activities. The Clinical/Therapeutic Staff at CAE utilize a cognitive-behavioral/problem solving approach as well as psychodynamic, family-systems and narrative principles. In addition, the Lakota-Sioux Circle of Courage – which teaches the value of belonging, independence, generosity and mastery – is explored to help students develop these essential life skills. This multi-faceted approach works to assist the students in: overcoming issues at hand; practicing more successful behavioral alternatives; and exploring ways to re-write their negative life stories. The goal is to work with students to build on their strengths and gifts, and be allies with them in their “fight” against the challenges and obstacles that get in the way of their success. The therapeutic milieu is based on a positive, nurturing model, where natural, logical consequences for behaviors are frequently utilized.  Progress towards each student's therapeutic goals is monitored on a weekly basis via student point sheets, frequent meetings with the treatment team regarding the student, and weekly individual therapeutic sessions. The goal of all therapy is to make progress in the general curriculum and transition to a less restrictive educational environment.

Programmatic Outcomes:

Successful transition to a less restrictive educational environment is our ultimate goal for all Connections Academy East students.  Individualized criteria to meet this goal will be defined for each student, as will the time-span for this process. Connections Academy East three main programmatic outcomes are:  (1) to increase students’ attendance to 90% on a monthly average, (2) decrease the number of behavioral visits and (3) students meet or exceed Individualized Education Plan goals as created by the team.  Data collection for attendance is through student daily attendance records and is reviewed by the student’s team on a weekly basis. When there is a pattern of excessive absences, or absences on the same day of every week, the team meets to determine what interventions can be implemented to assist the student in being successful in achieving the 90% monthly attendance rate.  Data collection for the decrease in behavioral visits is collected through student point sheets, goal-tracker data collection system, behavioral visit reports and detention forms. The team meets on every student once every 10 weeks to review behavioral data and determine if additional interventions need to be implemented. Data collected for meeting or exceeding IEP goals is collected through a variety of resources dependent upon the goal written.  Data for academic/classroom behavioral goals is collected through classroom observations, student point sheets, classroom assignments, homework assignments, student work samples, and curriculum based assessments. Data for academic/classroom behavioral goals is reviewed weekly with teachers meeting on individual students on a weekly basis. Data for social/emotional goals is collected through individual therapy and student role plays. Data for social/emotional goals is reviewed weekly with therapist supervisor and/or behavioral staff.

Data Collection:

Student data is carefully collected and analyzed on both an individual and aggregate basis.  The results of the data analysis are reviewed and used for programmatic improvements and to guide staff training.  Data points include daily staff observations, point sheets, academic progress monitoring, report cards, standardized test scores, Goal Tracker, Behavior Tracker, related service logs and anecdotal records.