PeaceBuilders

CRC underwrites new curriculum for elementary school counselors
Posted on 10/25/2022
Patty Robertson, Brooke Weaver, Tabitha Parsons, Kali Dawes, Gabe Thompson, Abby Hanner, Bryson Merriott, Rebeca Pacheco, Leslie Maples, Mariah Long, Judy Moss, Darla Nunn and Allison Austill.

Poplar Bluff counselors, grades K-3, have their own curriculum for the first time in recent memory supplied along with a $500 implementation stipend per school building by the Butler County Community Resource Council.

PeaceBuilders, a science-based, research-validated professional development program, was funded via a $174,000 MEGA Grant from the Missouri Department of Mental Health, and will complement the restorative practice model the district implemented this year.

“The elementary counselors plan to use this curriculum in conjunction with the restorative practices for kids who would have otherwise been stuck in ISS [in-school suspension], writing sentences or doing busy work,” explained Gabe Thompson, O’Neal principal. “We hope that it will help improve our school climate and impact our kids in a positive way.”

Oak Grove Principal Kristie Robinson initially reached out to her former school colleague Abby Hanner, who now serves as a CRC prevention specialist, about whether any funding might be available to establish a “calm room” for students to center themselves. Robinson described the timing as “serendipitous,” as Hanner was seeking ways to help improve adolescent behaviors in the community with grant money awarded.

“We have things in place for older students to prevent substance misuse, but identifying younger students [exhibiting] risk factors – not so much,” said Hanner, who serves on the We Can Be Drug Free Coalition. “I knew the need from working at the school to teach self-regulating behaviors.”

Over the summer, Hanner approached R-I Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Patty Robertson, who arranged a meeting with elementary school counselors to brainstorm how to effectively apply the funding to reach students identified. In September, the Board of Education approved the PeaceBuilders curriculum, based on several guiding principles such as “righting wrongs” that parallel the district’s new restorative justice classrooms.

At the end of last school year, the BOE approved the addition of 10 restorative support instructor positions with a $292,000 Teacher Retention Grant from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, made possible under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program.

The funds also covered alternatives to suspension training for the new classified staff members, along with principals, counselors and intensive needs teachers, led by consultant Kelvin Oliver in advance of the present school year. “ISS is punitive in that students serve their time, whereas the restorative approach helps them process why,” explained Robertson adding that, if successful, the curriculum may expand to upper grade levels.

The district was paying $228,000 on existing ISS programs, including the salaries of three school employees and five substitute teachers, according to former R-I assistant superintendent of personnel Dr. Fara Jones, the author of the grant in December. If the BOE elects to continue the pilot program, the expenditure is estimated to be a $50,000 budget increase, including the two additional positions, according to information provided to the BOE in May.

“Research shows that suspending and expelling students does not help students improve behavior, address underlying causes of resistant behavior, or make schools safer,” wrote Jones, who has since accepted a position as deputy superintendent of Perryville. Jones further cited the work of researcher Laura McClure in the successful proposal: “Instead of using punishment to influence the way students behave, restorative approaches address the underlying reasons for students’ hurtful behavior and nurture their intrinsic desire to treat others with care and respect.”

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Cutline: Pictured during the monthly coalition meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at the CRC are (left to right) Patty Robertson, Brooke Weaver, Tabitha Parsons, Kali Dawes, Gabe Thompson, Abby Hanner, Bryson Merriott, Rebeca Pacheco, Leslie Maples, Mariah Long, Judy Moss, Darla Nunn and Allison Austill.

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