Brightside Program Is Changing Lives

A groundbreaking treatment model for children with emotional difficulties is gaining attention in the world of behavioral health, and it’s in practice right in our own backyard.


In fact, the new approach to teaching life skills, addressing emotional problems, and creating a more peaceful learning environment is only being used in the Pioneer Valley, at the Brightside Treatment Facility and Campus School. The ‘Culture of Caring’ has already created a buzz at Brightside, as the numbers of physical restraints per month drop, test scores soar, and staff members begin to notice a more serene tone taking hold in classrooms and residential cottages.

Slowly but surely, that buzz is beginning to spread, and Brightside’s staff knows they could be at the very beginning of a national breakthrough in behavioral health.
The model is simple – it combines three well-known behavioral treatment options, PEM, MBMI and DBT – into one, to best serve the needs of the children at Brightside. In short, it strives to address the health of the minds, bodies, and spirits of children in both the residential and outpatient programs at Brightside on a daily basis, in much the same way lessons in math, English or history would be taught.

Each day, the ideas of the Culture of Caring are reinforced until students begin to develop a mastery of everything from saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to understanding the complexities of their own emotions.

Brightside’s ultimate goal for each child who comes through its doors is to watch that individual walk back out into the world, and to conquer the challenges waiting for them. By using the Culture of Caring, the staff at Brightside firmly believes they have struck upon the most effective way to do just that.

What’s more impressive though, is the staff’s belief that the model should not be relegated to just behavioral health settings. The model could work, they say, in public schools, especially those with high populations of children from rough neighborhoods, broken families, or with high dropout rates. Further, they have offered their expertise in training other educators to use the Culture of Caring in their classrooms.

According to the Brightside Campus School’s Principal, Lora Davis-Allen, a child’s needs must be addressed before a vocabulary list or an algebra theorem can be taught, and with a background as an educator in the Springfield school system, she knows that this truth extends far beyond the walls of the Brightside school.

Some students in public schools worry not about getting their homework done on time, but getting home at all. Others are unconcerned with reading their history chapters because they must first put dinner on the table, care for siblings, or go to their after-school job to help pay the rent. Others still have been caught up in a world where books are unimportant compared to drugs, crime, or truancy, because they were never taught why or how education could possibly help them.

In Western Mass., the schools of the region’s cities could serve as apt testing grounds for the Culture of Caring and its effectiveness. Brightside’s staff is ready to begin introducing the model to more conventional classrooms. Now the onus lies with the public schools to accept the Culture of Caring as not a fad nor a whim, but a possible answer to some of the problems that plague struggling school systems.

Will the new initiative eradicate the problems within some of Springfield or Holyoke’s classrooms? No, but at a time when the region is searching for creative solutions to countless multi-layered issues, from financial strife to high crime rates to social despair, the Brightside staff’s eagerness to contribute to the effort to steer the area’s children in a positive direction should not be ignored.

If positive developments continue at Brightside due to the Culture of Caring method, the approach will undoubtedly attract more attention and acclaim nationwide.

From that acclaim will come wider use of the model at treatment facilities and schools. And with the model’s beginnings firmly rooted in Western Mass., the region should not pass up an opportunity to be one of the first places to use the Culture of Caring on a more generalized level.

Brightside strives to send its students out into the world better prepared for what awaits them, and the motto for any school, anywhere, is largely the same. Perhaps the methods for achieving that goal should be more similar, too.