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HCDE Schools Provide Individualized, Flexible Environment for Special Needs Students

Behavior analyst works to improve challenging behaviors to increase quality of life

Melissa Mumper, Behavior Analyst with Harris County Department of Education’s Academic and Behavior Centers works with student Thomas Duong, 15, on a sorting assignment using positive reinforcement techniques

Being bitten and chased out of a gym on the first day of work may cause a teacher to re-think a career, but for Melissa Mumper it provided an opportunity for understanding how to improve a life through positive behavior modification.

Mumper is the behavior analyst for Harris County Department of Education’s two Academic and Behavior Center (ABC) schools for autistic and emotionally disturbed students ages 5-21. The schools serve school districts located in and around Harris County which contract with HCDE for educational services.

The ABCs serve students with intellectual, developmental, and behavioral disorders, as well as autism spectrum disorder and other health impairments. Small class sizes staffed by certified and highly-qualified staff offer students individualized and/or small group instruction that traditional school districts may be unable to provide.

Staff at ABC schools are often challenged with entering students who are older (middle, high school and beyond) whose challenging behavior is so engrained that it takes an extended period of time to change and shape that behavior.

As a behavior analyst, Mumper works with ABC teachers and staff to model how to work with individual students without escalating that student’s behavior. She also intervenes in dangerous classroom situations to minimize danger to other students and to redirect a physically aggressive student into calming down.

“When a student first comes to us, a challenging behavior like physical aggression might be pretty high,” said Mumper. “Once we implement the intervention plan, that behavior decreases over time.”

The student’s Annual Review and Dismissal Committee creates a behavior intervention plan and individual education plan annually for every student. The plans are reviewed after 36 weeks of instruction to determine if the student has mastered the plan and to develop a new plan for the next instruction period.

To reduce the risk of incidents, students with special needs require low student-to-teacher ratios and a flexible environment with minimal distractions. ABC schools emphasize staying proactive to prevent student episodes. This is achieved with teachers working more days and receiving training throughout the year. Each campus has a staff development plan based on individual campus needs which may change depending on increases or decreases in amount of incidents.

“With our emphasis on staying proactive, Melissa is charged with looking at what leads up to a particular behavior and how we can prevent it from occurring in the future,” said Senior Director of School Administration Dee Mattox-Hall.

The ultimate goal for students who acquire both academic and behavioral enrichment is successful reintegration into their home districts. State-aligned curriculum ranges from academic enrichment to life skills to behavior management.

Students learn to adapt to an academic setting behaviorally with tasks suitable to their abilities. They learn hygiene skills and organizational habits like folding and putting away their possessions.

By the time students reach ABC schools, parents and students can sometimes be frustrated with the education process. Mumper explained.  She recalls meeting with a recently enrolled student’s mother who was anxious from the four to five daily calls she received from her son’s previous school.

“We don’t do that. We keep you here and work with you no matter what,” said Mumper. “We don’t turn anyone away and we don’t give up on anybody. That’s what makes us unique.”


About HCDE:  Harris County Department of Education provides education services to the general public and 25 school districts throughout Harris County and beyond. Services include adult education, programs to promote safe schools, after-school programs, therapy services, professional development for educators, special schools, alternative certification for principals and teachers, Early Childhood Intervention and Head Start programs. We offer purchasing procurement, grant development, program research and evaluation, records management, and school finance support. Since 1889, our services continue to evolve to meet the needs of our education public. Visit us at


Media Contact:

Tammy Lanier

Director Communications and Public Information

713. 696. 0752

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