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West Allis district school gets a bit calmer with new techniques

Hoover sees results from plan to lessen disruptions

Oct. 15, 2013

West Allis — Early indications are that the concentrated effort to minimize classroom disruptions in West Allis-West Milwaukee elementary schools are working.

What seems to be making the difference this year at each school is the presence of its own an academic dean who, among other things, helps teachers use new techniques, some of which were originally developed for special needs students. Until this year, four elementary schools shared one academic dean.

Besides focusing on one school, each academic dean this year also is a specialist in some area and offers optional workshops to teachers after school.

Stacy Christenson, who teaches grades one through three at Hoover Elementary School, 12705 W. Euclid Ave., New Berlin, and a team from Hoover delivered a report to the West Allis-West Milwaukee School Board on Monday on the initiative.

Success at Hoover

Christenson said the academic dean at Hoover has made a big difference.

"Our questions are answered quickly and we are able to be much more productive because of it," Christenson said.

Christenson said she has personally used some of the techniques for years, but now the techniques are commonplace at the school. And because there is sharing among the schools, all schools are could be seeing improvements, she speculated.

Probably the biggest help in keeping order in the classroom have been the calming techniques that all Hoover teachers now use, Tom Luedke, who also teaches first through third grade, told the board.

Those include wiggle chairs for little ones who can't sit still, weighted vests and even a wooden rolling pin, he said. Kids also calm down by squeezing a squishy ball, rolling on an exercise ball or by building with Legos, he said.

Taking a brain break

Luedke acknowledged that he initially had his doubts about the effectiveness of one of the techniques, the brain break, Luedke said.

When children feel anxiety or anger building up, they go to the brain break area, a place where they can be alone. They can still hear the lesson going on but they are away from whatever is bothering them, he explained. A teacher goes to the brain break area to speak with the children to find out what's wrong.

Only two students are allowed in the brain break area at a time, and Luedke was worried that students would go in there all the time. But that hasn't been the case.

Positive reinforcements

In addition, Hoover teachers highlight the positive side of student behavior.

Teachers give "green slips" to children having a good day as an encouragement to have more of them. The green slips describe why it was a good day, and the children proudly take the slips home for their parents to read.

The students and the parents love it, Luedke said.

In addition, the Positive Behavior Intervention Support program, which rewards good behavior and builds relationships between teachers and students, has been beefed up at Hoover, the team reported.

The School Board was more than satisfied.

"It wasn't too long ago that the board asked you what tools you would be using," said board member Daniel Bailey. "I'm extremely pleased."

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