NorthStar Educational and Therapeutic Services, a member of the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Supports is a strength-based and restorative special education program which serves children with Severe Emotional/Behavioral Disorders (SEBD) from birth through 21 years of age who live in the following school systems in North Central Georgia: Pickens, Fannin, Gilmer, Murray, Dalton City, and Whitfield. The program began in 1971 and is funded through the Georgia Department of Education and receives some federal and local financial support. Services are free to eligible students and their families.

The highly trained and dedicated staff consists of administrators, psychologists, doctoral interns, counselors, special education teachers, parent-student facilitators and paraprofessionals all trained to provide specialized support to our unique population.  In addition, NorthStar provides psychiatric and other supportive services to assist the student in achieving maximum potential.

Children and youth served by the program have a variety of backgrounds, different life styles, and intellectual levels. However, all of them experience emotional conflict and some are underachieving academically.  Anxiety, anger, depression, reality confusion, or neuro-cognitive challenges may be evidenced. NorthStar believes that all students have significant potential and when provided with positive, supportive environments a great change will take place! Approaches used with youth are solution-focused and referrals are channeled through the Special Education Department of the local school systems.  Service eligibility is based on comprehensive educational and psychological test results, a social history, medical data, anecdotal records, observational information and psychiatric assessment.

The nature of the services depends upon the individual education plan for each child. School-age service consists primarily of GNETS class placement. Students enroll in classes at one of our locations, either a separate facility or within the local school instead of going to their regular school on a full or part-time basis. Significant emphasis is given to social-emotional awareness and growth. Targeted help is provided to assist the student in mastering critical academics as outlined in the Georgia Performance Standards. NorthStar works closely with the local school system in maintaining quality instruction for all referred students.

A variety of unique therapeutic supports are offered through trained staff members, core providers of mental health services and selected program consultants. The school's educational philosophy addresses both emotional growth, as well as, academic goals. To facilitate achievement of these goals a carefully structured, stimulating and meaningful environment is created for students to learn and grow. It is felt that once a student has been placed at NorthStar, he or she is considered to be experiencing significant emotional conflict. This conflict is viewed as stemming from both within the student and through their interpersonal interactions with others. Interactions may involve significant others, including parents, siblings, peers, and teachers. The interactions are so severely impaired that intensive therapeutic techniques must be employed that will focus upon both long and short term rehabilitation. It is hoped these techniques and experiences will assist the students in better understanding their intrinsic motivations and help them obtain more appropriate self-directed behavior.

NorthStar provides a number of ways to help students meet their personal goals by offering a variety of placement options including full and partial-day programming, brief and extended therapeutic strategies, social skills training, psychological counseling, psychiatric consultation, mentoring, vocational programming and a parent training model. However, the most commonly utilized approach is the therapeutic counseling/teaching interactions between teachers and students which focus upon the development of personal insight and related problem solving skills. Typical methods in a NorthStar classroom would involve the use of small group instruction and structured discussions to enhance self-concept, intrapersonal and interpersonal development, social competence, and self-awareness. The staff members become a valuable and active agent of change by providing a relationship based on nurturance and positive environmental support. Therapeutic change occurs when children gain insight into themselves while being guided and encouraged by the teacher in the acquisition of real skills. Ultimately, it is the student who must act upon and take personal responsibility for individual actions.

Students who attend NorthStar participate in a comprehensive behavior support system. Students are supported through targeted therapeutic interventions, positive relationships with adults and peers and introduction to new experiences that help to shape and transform them into confident, capable and empowered students.

NorthStar employs elements from positive psychology, resilience science, relational therapy, strength-based research and other solution based therapies. The best of these therapeutic approaches are interwoven into a basic conceptual framework from the Circle of Courage, a research-driven model for transforming children and youth.  Parents and caregivers are encouraged to take a very active role in the transformation process and are included as full partners in their student's educational experience.