Spotlight on Lakeland Central School District

May 23, 2019

The Oasis program at Walter Panas High School in the Lakeland Central School District is a high school within a high school – but you won’t find any walls. And that is one of the keys to its success. 
A collaboration between Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES and the Lakeland Central School District, Oasis supports about 50 students in grades 9 to 12 who require a different learning environment than that of a traditional high school setting. While the students benefit from the intensive emotional and academic supports found within the Oasis program, they also benefit from being part of a larger high school and following a Regents curriculum.
“The Lakeland Central School District really led the way in addressing the needs of students who require greater social and emotional support when it partnered with BOCES to create Oasis in 2003,” said BOCES Special Education Director Dr. Shelley Einbinder-Fleischmann. “In fact, it has been so successful that we are currently exploring opening a second location in the region.”

Oasis was originally created for a small group of high school students who required a “safe haven” to best reach their greatest learning potential within Walter Panas High School.  In an effort to further expand this unique opportunity to other students in the region, Lakeland CSD and PNW BOCES formed a partnership that has continued to evolve and flourish, creating a long and successful history of meeting the academic and social-emotional needs of students.   
As awareness of the need to support students’ social and emotional needs has grown, other school districts have visited Oasis to learn about how it works. The success of the program can be seen in the students who graduate and go on to college programs and careers, and those who are able to return to the general classroom.
Oasis students have the option to take some of their classes with Walter Panas students when appropriate, and many participate in Panas’ sports, theater and other extracurricular programs. Some Panas students, meanwhile, have learned they can drop into the Oasis common room for a little space or quiet time.
“There is a real sense of community within Oasis,” said Dr. Melissa Cafaro, supervisor of Local School Buildings Program for BOCES. “But, there is also such acceptance of the program within Panas and the students benefit from being part of that larger community.”
“Our students are well integrated within the school,” agreed PNW BOCES psychologist Dr. Matthew Harris. Because of the program’s success, there is typically a waiting list, particularly for incoming ninth-graders.  
Students come to Oasis because they need an alternative to the traditional classroom setting to experience success and meet their greatest potential.  They may also benefit from support coping with anxiety, depression, or facing social issues.
All the students receive individual and group counseling weekly. They also learn the skills inherent in dialectical behavior therapy – a type of behavioral treatment that has been found to help people better manage painful emotions and avoid relationship conflicts. Students learn how to be mindful, develop strategies to manage intense emotions and communicate with others in ways that are respectful and likely to strengthen relationships. Whenever possible, the program involves families in treatment.
“By participating in a ‘school within a school,’ our students receive the intense supports they need while providing exposure to all of the co- and extra-curricular opportunities a high school has to offer," said Lakeland Superintendent Dr. George Stone. "Working in partnership with BOCES has helped ensure that the resources necessary for success are safely in place."

Most students take four core courses – English, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies – within Oasis, where they benefit from small class sizes and a variety of modifications as needed.
“The smaller classrooms are a safe place for our students,” Cafaro said. “They can really be successful there and show what they truly know.”
The academic piece of the program, however, is flexible. Helping the students be successful in mainstream classes is one goal of the program that staff work toward, Harris said. That often results in older students taking a majority of classes, including Advanced Placement classes, with Panas students. Others might only mainstream for art, music or physical education. Students also have the option of participating in PNW BOCES Career and Technical Education programs.