Fast Company Lessons for Life : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

"Lessons for Life". By Rekha Balu, Fast Company, June 2000, pp.74-76.

Providing a model school that can be replicated to create an exceptional educational experience for children is what Garehime Elementary School is all about. They have created a microsociety where teachers guide their students through real life immersion in the legal system, the postal system and other real life scenarios rather than teaching the three "R's" the old fashioned way.

The school opened as an attempt to address the fast growing district population. They include more than one fourth minority students and many of the newer homes may house more than one family. Like many school districts across the nation, Garehime is faced with few economic resources and has a staff with the passion to teach.

This school boasts that in the first year they had no habitual disciplinary problems or truancy - unlike many other elementary schools in the fast growing Clark County School District. And students scored well above national and district average percentile ranks in reading math, language and science. In it's first year Garehime spent $2,944 per pupil; the district average is $3, 269. (2000, p. 76)

Reducing the number of habitual behavior problems in public elementary school is on the minds of many educators, administrators and parents across our country. Over time districts have been creative in ways to improve the problem behaviors of their students. Improving and maintaining the behaviors of students who have average or above average behaviors is a simple task. Basically you can't harm what these children already have internally achieved.

One of the questions I found myself asking the professionals who came to our Master's program this year was, what about the bottom 10-15%? How do we address the problem behaviors of children in the bottom 10%-15%? I was hoping to be a masters graduate student prepared to tackle this educational impasse. I am not. As a teacher of children with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders and a wife of an Elementary EBD Teacher I would like to find the answer to this educational dilemma. I am moving on to a regular 1st grade classroom now and I want to be prepared to manage all types of student in this setting. Inclusion of all students was and continues to be my initial interest in special education. I want to be the best teacher for all students that walk through my classroom door each day. Here I am 12 years later and I still have not come much closer in finding a solution to the question, "What about that bottom 10%? What about those children who drain the administrators, and "take" the teacher's attention from the other students?" These children burn much of a teacher's energy and yet the answer to this very needy and exhausting question continues to remain unanswered.

Reminiscing, immediately the tune from schoolhouse Rock comes to mind, "the small get smaller, the tall get taller and the fat get fatter and the rich get richerwell, the socially adept get more socially adept and the children with more problem behaviors get more problem behaviors." This is illustrated clearly in local and national newspapers across the country daily.

These children identified early on in school districts with problem behaviors are the same children that we continue to read about as young adults and later as grown community members. They continue to exhibit unacceptable problem behaviors and end up as a repeat statistic for law enforcement and our legal system. Continuing to be a drain on our community's energy and finances.

This goes back to my thinking as an undergraduate in special education. Where should our (the taxpayer's) money go? We need to do something about this problem. Teachers complain, administrators burn out, EBD teachers are leaving the field for less stressful employment we need to address this issue head on. But how?

Currently in the International Falls district there is an approach aimed at reducing the incidence of problem behaviors. This approach attempts to go to the root of the problem. The district has trained over thirty teachers in the Responsive Classroom approach.

Independent School District #361 in International Falls, Minnesota, has recognized the need for a violence prevention program that creates a school climate where students feel safe. As a result, in December of 1997, a committee of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members was established to observe students' behaviors and assess whether or not there was a need for a behavior intervention program. The committee determined the need existed, then selected the Responsive Classroom approach intervention program. Through the joint grant program of the Center for Reducing Rural Violence and the Center for School Change, Independent School District #361 was awarded a $25,000 grant for research, training, and the implementation of the Responsive Classroom social skills approach for teachers in grades kindergarten through eighth in International Falls, Minnesota. The Parenting Task Force, a county collaboration, contributed money that allowed teachers from other communities in Northern Minnesota, as well as, staff members from the parochial school in International Falls, Minnesota to participate in the Responsive Classroom training. (Responsive Classroom, 2000, p.1)

According to the Northeast Foundation for Children (NEFC), an organization that advocates the development of a social curriculum in elementary schools: (2000, p.1)

The strategies of the Responsive Classroom teach proactive discipline through modeling, role playing, and the practicing of expected behaviors in order to foster the creation of a stimulating and caring intellectual community of learners. Significant research studies support the effectiveness of these strategies. (1998, p. 1)

This is only one component of a much larger attempt to reduce violence and problem behaviors in our community. This approach has offered me hope that we can take a step forward to reach that 10-15%. As it has been eloquently stated many times before. It takes an entire village to raise one child. In International Falls that is what we are all about, protecting our future and our resources for everyone. Like Grarehime, in International Falls we are moving in the right direction. We are taking responsibility for our children, all our children.

-- Anonymous, June 21, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ