W-MU focuses on emotional well-being and social skills

GTNS photo by David Hotle

Winfield-Mt. Union Elementary principal Gabe Wylder teaches dancing to a group of students during a special day celebrating the district’s social and emotional skills initiative.
GTNS photo by David Hotle Winfield-Mt. Union Elementary principal Gabe Wylder teaches dancing to a group of students during a special day celebrating the district’s social and emotional skills initiative.

WINFIELD — In the lobby of Winfield-Mt. Union School, fifth-grader Grant Anderson sat in a circle with many of the new friends he had made so far this year.

The group played a game involving passing a cube with a number. When someone got the cube, the teacher asked a question regarding their feelings. They weren’t required to answer, but most were very comfortable with the teacher and their peers, and responded to the question. This game is one of the activities the school has implemented as part of its focus on positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS).

“It’s a good chance to get to know people,” Anderson said as he passed the cube along to the next player. “It’s awesome that we are getting to meet new people and make new friends.”

Since the beginning of the year, Anderson reported he had made several new friends as part of the school’s new students’ social and emotional health program. Beginning this year, the students started their mornings with a social circle giving each the chance to get to know their peers even more.

On Friday, March 29, the elementary school had a special day to celebrate how well the program has been going. A ceremony was held showcasing students who have been showing the district’s “WOLF” expectations. From there, the students were able to visit their choice of several stations for additional learning. The stations included getting to know teammates, teamwork activities, dancing with elementary principal Gabe Wylder, social skills, identifying emotions, creating a skit, healthy snacks, and yoga. In the afternoon, students watched the movie “Inside Out,” which deals with feelings and emotions.

“The reason we are doing this day is the kids have really shown us ... they have earned this day,” Tyler Stevens, district special education teacher, said.

Steven has a lunchtime session, and said he doesn’t hear any negative comments between the students anymore. He said the students are all positive and are cheering each other on to accomplish more.

“We are seeing leaps and bounds in kids,” Stevens said. “They are showing us everything we want to see in a productive student.”

Katelyn McKim, district guidance counselor, explained there is a strong correlation between academic success and social emotional awareness. The positive intervention system is schoolwide and focuses on the “WOLF” expectations — work hard, own your behaviors, listen and learn, and friendship. Kids work on expectations throughout the day. Educators have tickets they present the students if they show the behaviors throughout the day. Throughout the school year, there is a monthly assembly where the expectations are further reinforced through skits are shown demonstrating their usage.

Also this year, the school has initiated “circle time” which sets aside 30 minutes each morning to work on social emotional skills such as understanding, empathy, or emotional regulation. If the students wish, they can talk about their experiences. McKim explained she had felt she wasn’t doing enough with elementary grades and opted to begin the circles. She said the circles provide more connection between the students and gives the students time to talk and get to know each other. Teachers also deliver one social emotional lesson per week.

“It has been incredible to see students in circle time,” she said.

She explained the education system was discovering that consequences don’t have a lasting impact on behavior. It’s been discovered that highlighting positive choices is a good way to enforce behavior.

Several school districts use PBIS, but the manner in which it is taught varies between districts. McKim said the most important part of the program is buy-in from teachers and students. Not many school districts have adopted circle time, but McKim has been sharing the information with other districts.

McKim said most classes have always had lessons in social emotional health, but the program provides consistency between grades.

“The nice part of having a system in place is that it allows us to track data and really have some validity behind what we are seeing,” she said.

The goal is “partners preparing productive citizens.” McKim said the more the school can improve social skills and emotional regulation, the better the students will be after they leave the school.

“The workforce has been asked what workers are lacking and they are lacking the skills we are teaching,” Stevens said “They are not lacking in math, they are lacking in social emotional skills. We take that and make sure students who graduate from here have those skills.”

McKim said W-MU is seeing great progress because of the smaller class sizes. She wonders what the impact would be on larger districts on a program like this.