Tell us about you:
My name is Brendan Folmar. I’m the Principal for the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls’ (VHBG) alternative K-12 school called the John G. Wood School. I’ve worked more than 28 years in central Virginia in residential youth treatment facilities and have numerous endorsements and certifications in administration and supervision including PreK-12 education with specialization in emotional disturbance, learning disabilities, and crisis prevention.
What is the focus of your work, the need you are addressing?
I work in a private school setting in collaboration with many other professionals to teach children with behavioral and emotional challenges that impact a student’s ability to be successful in a public school environment.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
The team approach. As a former professional football quarterback, I was always part of a team that worked together to win games. When a child succeeds at our school we all celebrate together as a team. It takes a group of interdisciplinary professionals providing trauma-informed care to address each child’s unique challenges which is important to helping children heal and restores hope to them and their families who then find the courage to thrive.
What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?
My job is to facilitate a team effort to reintegrate students back to their home school. Conveying the balance of helping children improve their academic scores while working on their tremendously challenging behavior and emotional skills is often difficult. So it’s important that I build individual relationships with each child’s referring public school systems so their trajectory of success will continue.
What’s coming next for you and/or for your organization that really excites you?
VHBG’s John G. Wood School has a career and technical education (CTE) credit program endorsed by the VA Department of Education. A CTE program helps students investigate careers and design their plan of study to advance their career goals. I’m excited about our current program because it is a foundation for exploring technical trades like automotive, culinary, construction, etc. I’m also excited about the electives we offer and that we will be adding a full time art teacher this fall. After graduation, many of our students need options that include more than traditional college. By providing CTEs, our students are better prepared for employment. In addition, we have future plans for adding specific CTE courses that will include giving our students the opportunity for real-life internship experiences on and off campus. I’m excited about building relationships with community partners that will lead to jobs for our students in the future.
How are you leveraging ConnectVA to achieve your mission?
Alternative schools are not generally part of mainstream consciousness. We serve very specific children with emotional and behavioral health challenges. There are many great alternative education providers in our community and we each provide a variety of care levels. I’m proud to say we work together to refer students to each other’s programs so that the child is matched to the specific care that suits their needs. Children and families in crisis often receive services from other types of programs in our community. Because ConnectVA is a direct communication channel within the non-profit industry, its ability to raise awareness of alternative education options with human service agencies is very helpful.
Anything else you would like to share?
I am a big believer in using the Circle of Courage approach to help youth in crisis overcome their challenges. This model of positive youth development is based on teaching principles of the four universal growth needs of all children: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. Because most of the children we serve have faced some sort of trauma in their young lives, they need to learn this foundation for psychological resilience. To overcome their social, emotional, behavioral, and academic barriers to succeeding, ‘where’ and ‘when’ we teach is also important. Nestled in a park-like setting, our 30+ acre campus includes recreational facilities such as a gymnasium, playing fields, and an outdoor swimming pool. Our students participate in competitive sports and are members of the Richmond Alternative School Sports League (RASSL). In addition to a K-12 alternative school, VHBG offers family-focused residential group homes and an outpatient counseling clinic…all designed to incorporate the teaching of coping skills.