A curriculum for coping adds to academics at PS7

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It takes a village, the old adage says, to raise a child. At P.S. 7 Milton Fein, teachers are taking lessons beyond math and reading.

It’s all about social and emotional learning, teaching students how to recognize and manage their emotions, set and work toward personal goals, show empathy for others, form good relationships, and make responsible decisions. The goal is to improve classroom behavior, and in the process, academic performance.

“We don’t just teach academic skills, we also teach students proper behavior,” P.S. 7 principal Miosotis Ramos said. “Instead of just punishing them when they do something wrong, as educators, we should be teaching the right way to behave.”

Ramos attended a therapeutic intervention workshop three years ago focused on helping children handle emotions during a crisis. The common-sense techniques taught there — like squatting down to a child’s eye level to speak to them — were highly effective, and Ramos put them into effect as soon as she returned to P.S. 7.

“One of the things that they talked about was coping with emotions,” Ramos said. “We felt that it was important train the teachers to teach the students coping methods like exercise or breathing or talking with friends.”

Ramos saw a sudden improvement in student behavior. Teachers were more successful calming upset students. It inspired more social emotional learning.

Last year, guidance counselor Kelly Links introduced students to the children’s book “How Full Is Your Bucket?” and a related program that rewarded students for positive behavior. When teachers see a student being kind, empathetic and helpful, they reward them with a ticket that’s dropped into the class’s communal bucket. Once it’s full, the whole class earns a reward.

“I carry tickets around all day,” Links said. “If somebody holds the door for me, or if a child helps another find something they’re missing, it’s those kinds of things that we’ll give a student a ticket for.”

Soon after the program caught on, Ramos saw students volunteer to tie shoes, tidy up play areas, and help carry things all over the school.

Every Friday, Links gives a shout out over the school intercom system to a student caught doing something especially helpful that week. Anyone can be selected for a positive act and publicly celebrated for their character.

It’s become incredibly popular.

“Actually, last week I couldn’t do the shout outs and I had to do them on Monday,” Links said. “At dismissal Friday, everyone was like, ‘Why’d you leave off shout outs?’ They’ve really come to love them.”

This recognition has spread to the teachers, Ramos said, who have begun publicly recognizing when a colleague has gone out of their way to show kindness and appreciation.

There has been a district-wide push to incorporate social emotional learning in the classroom, Ramos said, so she added the Cloud9World social emotional program in February. The curriculum includes books the students read and discuss in class, and can take home at the end of the month.

“I thought it might be a good thing to try the program because it also involves the parents,” Ramos said. Take-home assignments have students and their parents talk about emotions and positive character traits.

Students learn about one positive characteristic each month: perseverance, respect or determination. They read books with plots outlining that month’s trait.

In February, third graders completed an interactive reading of “Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch,” a book about a reserved character that won friends by being positive and outgoing. The following assignments asked what traits friends and family love about the student. It made students think about their own positive characteristics.

In May, P.S. 7 faculty will participate in training for a program through Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s called RULER. It’s yet another program teaching educators how to talk to children about acknowledging and mastering their emotions through the core concepts of “recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing and regulating” emotions.

“When I see parents outside of class, they tell me how much good this character development is doing,” Links said.

Calling parents over problematic behavior is down, Links said. Tantrums are now out, having been replaced with excitement to be caught doing good things.

“Oh, they’re super excited,” kindergarten teacher Samantha Scoca said. “Every time I’m like, ‘Wow, I love how you just helped your friends put a counter in their bucket,’ they’re like, ‘Yay.’”

Attendance and test scores increased schoolwide because students want to be there, Ramos said.

“I definitely see a significant difference in how children are learning how to cope, are verbalizing emotions, and seeking that help,” the principal said. “And it’s because we’ve created a safe environment where they can come to us and say, ‘I’m feeling this emotion and I need help dealing with it.’”

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