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Students Are Given Tools To Succeed In School And Life

Lincoln Elementary School kindergartners Evelyn Stronz and Frankie Tehan are pictured out the school's Sensory Walk.

“We have always cared for the social and emotional needs of our kids,” said Katie Russo, Lincoln Elementary School principal. “We know the importance of instilling, at a young age, the self-belief in children that they can succeed and give them the tools to do so for academic success, but also for success in life. Our school is focusing on giving our kids good strategies to deal with what they see every day and provide a supportive learning environment.”

Lincoln School’s goal to support kids socially and emotionally happens through a variety of activities including Second Step lessons, morning meetings, sensory walkway, bullying prevention curriculum and Social Academic Instructional Groups.

All JPS elementary schools use Second Step, which is a program rooted in social-emotional learning that helps transform schools into supportive, successful learning environments. The age-appropriate programs teach students strategies to use such as respectful listening, using self-talk, being assertive, making a plan to learn, identifying others’ feelings, understanding perspectives, conflicting feelings, accepting differences, showing compassion, making friends, managing emotions and problem solving. Most grade levels begin teaching the lessons the first couple weeks of school. Second Step gives a common language to use throughout the building including posters (for example: “Stop, Name Your Feeling” and “Calm Down”). Second Step also includes videos and songs that go along with the curriculum, so students are able to better understand and remember the strategies.

All Lincoln homerooms have a morning meeting where students can work on their social and emotional skills and get to know each other better as people. Students sit in a circle and each child answers a question posed by the teacher. Morning meetings help create a classroom family, allowing everyone to express themselves. It can also be a good time to review strategies learned in the Second Step lessons.

Patrick and Jill Smeraldo gifted Sensory Walkways to each elementary school this year. Lincoln School placed their sensory walk in a second floor hallway. The walk includes vinyl stickers that have alphabet letters, numbers and directions (such as: clap your hands or jump) on them so they can be used to reinforce what students are learning in their classroom. The purpose of the sensory walk is to increase cognitive functioning and reduce sensory-seeking behaviors. The walk allows for movements breaks and is a way to release energy before negative behaviors occur. Sensory walks are used with all students as a way to release energy, especially in the winter months when they can’t get outside.

Lincoln School Counselor TJ Guenther and Paraprofessional Michelle Terry work together to present bullying prevention lessons to kindergarten to fourth grade students. There are four lessons for each grade focusing on the importance of following the 3 R’s (recognizing, reporting, and refusing) of preventing as well as stopping bullying if they see it happening. The lessons include discussion questions, videos, and role play/scenarios where students can practice what they learned. The fourth grade program also touches on cyber bullying.

“Some students are afraid to talk. They think they are tattling,” said Mr. Guenther. “These lessons alleviate that concern and allow kids to talk to an adult if they feel bullied, or what to do it they are a bystander to a bullying incident. We are trying to empower kids, at an early age, to feel okay to let an adult know about bullying.”

Mr. Guenther and Mrs. Terry, along with the PBIS Tier 1 Team, created the school’s first “Kindness Week” this year for National Bullying Prevention Month. They wanted to show students that kindness is a replacement behavior for bullying. Throughout the week, there were kindness lessons given to students including: how to be kind and the effect kindness has on people through hands-on and video lessons. They also held a school-wide Kindness Challenge where students conducted kind acts all week and every child wrote a kind thought on a post-it note that were hung in the cafeteria to “Spread Kindness Like Confetti.” Each child received his or her picture in front of a kindness banner as a keepsake to continue the conversation at home about the importance of kindness.

SAIG (Social Academic Instructional Groups) are used to help those students who need a reteach of school-wide expectations. Guenther collaborates with teachers to identify students who are challenged at certain social and emotional skills. They are then put into small groups, which work with Terry. Within each lesson there are discussions and role-play activities that also incorporate games, books, and/or videos.

“In order for students to learn we need to make sure all of their needs are met, one of these needs is their social and emotional health,” said Jennifer Whitacre, Lincoln Elementary School Special Education teacher. “If a child is upset or angry, then they cannot focus on their reading and math. Nor can a child sit and learn if they have all of this energy they need to get out. Just like academics, social and emotional strategies need to be taught to students. By doing so, we are focusing on the whole child and creating well-rounded scholars and citizens.”

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