No parent is proud when negative behavior or discipline reports come home in their child's backpack. Regardless of many other differences among parents, most want to raise responsible, respectful kids who ultimately will grow into adults able to handle life's inevitable tense situations with tact and integrity. It can be a daunting and bewildering goal today, with bullying and school violence on the rise. Schools can play a significant role in providing the footprint for positive behavior. While parental modeling is key, especially in the preschool years, school and extracurricular programs that use behavior management systems (or BMS) are also significant in eliciting positive behavior from kids.
Many area schools are trying to be out front in promoting positive behaviors in their students, setting the tone right from the beginning of the year. One school working hard to augment positive behaviors in its students is C.H. Bird Elementary School in Sun Prairie. The overriding goal at Bird School is to have each student learn responsibility for his or her own behavior. To that end, Bird School uses several approaches.
At a school-wide assembly held in the gym, students are introduced to Jay Time. Named for the school mascot the Blue Jay, Jay Time is a new twist on an old practice. It replaces the monthly assemblies from previous years when students learned about important character traits such as responsibility, courage and honesty. Why the change? Counselor Judy Thompson says the faculty and staff wanted to break the students and faculty into 45 small groups to create better connections within their school family, to open the door to team building, and, of course, to continue their discussion of character traits.
During the assembly five teachers hold up huge, brightly colored puzzle pieces that, when fit together, read, "Blue Jay Rights. Everyone has the right to...Be Respected. Be Heard. Feel Safe. Have fun!" This theme is carried into each group, where students from every grade level are represented. The thinking is that discussions will have more impact this year due to the new close-knit environment that provides students a safe place to express their thoughts and feel heard.
Jay-Time is the latest endeavor at Bird School aimed at underlining the importance of positive behaviors. Levels Behavior, a BMS already in place at Bird School, teaches kids to associate their behavior with four colors: red = unacceptable; yellow = slow down and think; green = acceptable; blue = outstanding.
Thompson feels this behavior modification system is effective on its own, but likes the idea of supplementing it with another BMS called "Creating an Above the Line Classroom." Developed by retired teacher Corwin Kronenberg, it teaches that behaviors should always be respectful, responsible and safe. If behavior falls below this line of acceptability, kids are given the choice to fix the behavior or be given a consequence, thereby putting the responsibility of the behavior back on the child. After attending Kronenberg's seminar this summer, one of Bird School's kindergarten teachers, Jill Zimmerman, has already begun to incorporate several core concepts in her classroom this year.
Bird's principal, Chad Wiedmeyer, hopes the school's efforts will help "anchor kids to positive behaviors" and give them the "ability to problem-solve through their own decision-making processes." He recognizes that while schools are certainly an important part of developing desired behavior in kids, they are just one part of a larger whole. He cites other activities such as Scouting, sports teams and family time as having high value.
Does this BMS have any effect? Audra Yentz, whose five children have all attended Bird School, finds the Levels Behavior not only "very effective," but it mirrors "the way I try to parent. Emphasizing the positive aspects of behavior rather than focusing on the negative." She was especially impressed when her youngest, Jack, came home from kindergarten last year with exciting news. One of his classmates had demonstrated such outstanding behavior during the day that his name, as Jack put it, had "got on blue." The system works so well, she feels, that not only do kids feel great when recognized for their own positive behavior, but are equally thrilled when a friend has success.
Madison public schools also practice Kronenberg's "Above the Line Behavior" approach and use assemblies to teach positive behaviors. Teachers reinforce those lessons and also come up with "fix it" plans appropriate to misbehaviors, says Sue Abplanalp, assistant superintendent for Madison elementary schools.
At the East Madison Community Center, where Alternatives to Violence classes are held each week, youth program manager John Harmelink describes resources available there to kids who enroll: board games, CD-ROMs, magazines and books, many of which enable kids to role-play appropriate behavior or hear inspiring stories. Each game or story is intended to teach them that alternatives to violent behavior do exist.
Harmelink says that most kids want control over their emotions - particularly anger - and they recognize that the pay-off from positive behavior is far more desirable than the consequences of negative behavior. As a result, no one has to force kids to participate in these classes. They choose to sign up, and come voluntarily.
Conducted in four-week sessions, classes of four to six kids are open to youth ages 5 to 17; preteens on Tuesday nights and teens on Saturday mornings. As an added community-building exercise, Saturday's teens also pitch in to make breakfast. Each activity, discussion and resource used in class aims to help kids understand a key message: Anger is a normal emotion; we all experience it, and the way we respond to it is within our control. Key to this lesson is for kids to identify their own "anger triggers." Harmelink lists teasing, bullying, name-calling, competition, and bad-mouthing family members among those most common. He says through class participation, kids learn to recognize their personal triggers and in a tense situation, to "stop, think, relax...and then act."
Positive behavior is also encouraged in the center's Teen Boys and Girls Development Groups, where teens ages 11-17 work on building self-esteem, job skills, life skills, study skills, personal responsibility, cooking and nutrition, and community service projects.
With school-based and extracurricular programs like these that aim to produce more confident, responsible, and respectful kids, is there more that parents can do?
It comes back to those crucial years prior to school when kids' most important teachers - their parents - have so much influence (see sidebar). Harmelink also points to an absence of parenting resources - there are plenty of classes available to teach expectant parents how to give birth, but few devoted to helping raise kids once they've arrived. He believes additional funding in this area is called for, and would go a long way to keeping negative or violent behaviors from becoming problematic. Some classes do exist, and he strongly suggests parents take advantage of them whenever possible.
Alternatives to Violence classes
East Madison Community Center , 608-249-0861
Contact: Teri Wieland, 241-5150. Parenting classes cover all age groups. Call for class schedule and nearest location
Parental Stress Center Inc.
Contact: Sherry Stroup, 241-4888. Call for parenting class information
I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.
It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders " 10 boys and six girls " enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.
Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.
Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.
Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.
Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.
Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.
This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.
In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.
In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.
It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.
Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school.
Breathe in, breathe out. Have you ever been in the heat of a parenting moment with these words ringing through your head? Then you're on the right path toward mindful parenting.
The week between Christmas and New Year's is famous for all sorts of things. Malls are packed with folks exchanging those holiday sweaters that don't fit just right. It's the week those same folks pledge to never again eat another frosted sugar cookie or candy cane (hence the sweater issues). It's also the week the media saturates the public with dozens of "Best of Year" lists.
This will not (although it could) be a treatise on the value of "alone time" for a healthy marriage, though. Nor will it be an ode to how nice it was for me to have a few days off from lunch-packing, carpool-driving and homework-nagging.
For those of you who haven't yet seen it, the eight-week-long transit campaign, placed both inside and on the outside of buses, features a photo of an orange tabby with a stainless steel bar drilled into its head accompanied by the line "I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments!" Just as PETA hopes, the image is shocking and demands an immediate response.
If I had my druthers, I'd sit out the entire shopping week that follows Thanksgiving. Black Friday, for starters, has corrupted the fine art of bargain shopping and turned it into a gladiator sport. There is no percentage off that is worth losing sleep, or even worse an eye, over. Especially if you have kids in tow.
When you shop for toys, there is always the conflict between what you think is appropriate/adorable and what the child being shopped for might actually want/play with.
Many of the pop-culture seasonal touchpoints of my youth are completely lost on my kids. You see, while I may have memorized every word to both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser's songs from The Year Without a Santa Claus, I'm pretty sure the only Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special my kids have ever seen has been Rudolph.
I am so thrilled that the United Way is sponsoring a Teen Gift Drive this holiday season. Sure, teen "wants" often aren't as fun to shop for as precious baby dolls and sweet Lego sets. But middle and high school kids still "need" to feel valued and loved during this time of year. And helping a family in need to provide this for their child is a wonderful way to get in the spirit.