Elevate: Shawnee takes extra steps to ensure children are ready to learn

Tuesday, 24 November 2020 17:32

Elevate: Shawnee takes extra steps to ensure children are ready to learn Featured

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Press Release written by Annette Price, a communications specialist at the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

SHAWNEE (Nov. 23, 2020) – Empowering the littlest learners to overcome big obstacles is strengthening academic and social foundations at the earliest levels at the Shawnee Early Childhood Center. The school for Pre-K and kindergarten students is seeing the results of social-emotional learning centers it began adding two years ago to help children cope with emotional stress during the school day.

“Big emotions can happen for numerous reasons,” said Ann Worden, the principal who oversaw the development of the school’s “calm down room.” “It might be frustrations in the classroom. It may have been something that happened at home because we all have had hard mornings before we come to school and meet those challenges.”

The school's calm down room is staffed with a teacher trained in conscious discipline to coach young children who have difficulty regulating their emotions. The lights can be dimmed, and comforts like teddy bears, blankets and blocks have been used to help students distance themselves from stressors before they go back to their bustling classrooms. As a result of the calm down room, school administrators have seen office referrals for behavioral problems cut in half.

Educators at Shawnee say sleep disruptions, skipped meals or changes in a parent’s schedule can be big stressors for their 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds. Some children may come to the calm down room for a snack or a quick nap. Children can also eat lunch there if they are experiencing sensory overload from a noisy cafeteria.

Brayden Savage, who took over as principal after Worden’s retirement last May, is grateful for the progress students have made and firmly believes in the extra supports the school’s social-emotional rooms provide.

“We're looking at the individual and determining what that child needs. When we do have kids who are disruptive in class, we have tools to figure out how to help them regain focus. It just gives us a whole menu of options to help kids be successful in the classroom,” Savage said.

Building upon their success with the calm down room, the school opened two new special rooms last year to address other potential developmental barriers to learning.

Inside the “body shop,” children use large muscle groups to jump on mini trampolines, skip across numbered stepping stones and glide on brightly-colored elliptical machines built especially for 5-year-old bodies. Classes circulate through the body shop classroom twice a week in small groups or, in special instances, when children need a break. Educators say physical exercise can help develop cognitive connections needed to retain learning.

“If a child is frustrated or angry about something, there's always someone who can take them to the body shop so they can work some of that out. If they have that time to reset, we know they're able to focus more during their learning time and their brains are ready to work,” Savage said.

The third social-emotional center is the “HOPE” room, which is designed to help children who need extra help staying on task and getting along with classmates. A teacher coaches children in a smaller setting through educational games and puzzles that emphasize social skills like following rules and taking turns, and academic skills like sounding out letters and counting.

Kindergarten teacher Katie Thompson, who was an Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Finalist, says she has seen a big difference in her students’ ability to refocus after the addition of the three rooms.

“Anytime a child is struggling in my classroom, I can use any of those resources to get them reset and ready to learn. It’s been fantastic,” Thompson said. “As the year has progressed, they are realizing, ‘Oh so, when I am upset this is a healthy choice that I can make instead of letting emotions take control of my body.’ It’s been kind of neat to watch them shift to the understanding that they can make healthier choices than stay here and stay angry.

“When they come back, they are typically very excited. They are energetic but in a calmer way. The energy is positive, they are happier and the whole class just keeps moving,” she said.

Lauren Jenks-Jones, director of early childhood for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, said Shawnee’s efforts are supporting the state’s strategic goal of aligning learning foundations to ensure at least 75% of children are ready to read by kindergarten.

“Supports like these are exactly what students need to set them up for success later in elementary school and beyond. They are learning how to interact with others in productive and positive ways, how to self-regulate and respect boundaries. When you give students the tools they need, they develop a level of confidence that helps them thrive later on,” she said.

Savage believes that by continuing to follow cognitive research, her teachers are helping little ones flourish in education and in life.

“All three rooms are a way to teach these young people what to do when you feel like you're getting angry. You might need a break to go on a walk, sit quietly by yourself or talk to someone. We are really working with kids on developing social skills for when they don't know how to interact with others or need an extra boost in that area.”

David Deaton

Digital Editor at Oklahoma Welcome

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