A recent story be Doug Erickson in the Wisconsin State Journal covered MMSD’s implementation of a “new” approach to behavioral issues. No program is perfect and even the best programs can suffer from inconsistent application. I’ve heard mostly good things from staff and parents about Above the Line/Below the Line, so I hope that our community recognizes the limitations of what any approach can accomplish and gives this sufficient time before making it the focus of a “moral panic.”
A friend and colleague from the Equity Task Force, Jackie Woodruff, related her experiences in a message to the AMPS listserve. I think they should be part of the discussion and with her permission, I’m posting them here:
As a parent of twin second graders at Falk Elementary School I have been using Above the line, Below the Line for three years. It was our former Principal Jerry Tollefson that pushed to get the program used districtwide as our school has a high transient population and his staff was educating all students that transferred in to the school throughout the year. The fix it plan has received a very bad name in the past few weeks. The fix it plan is designed to have the children involved come up with a way to fix the problem, come up with a consequence and then the offending party has to come up with something positive they can do to the offended party to make amends. For my children in kindergarten they wrote pictures to explain their plan and then had the plan approved by the teacher. The whole point is that the children are learning a life lesson using conflict resolution skills to solve problems they encounter. It is a foundation to build on throughout their school experience as they grown and their understanding broadens. My children have used fix it plans with the children in the neighborhood to solve problems they encounter.
Give me five is a way of reminding the children what behaviors are acceptable and how one can act appropriately. Class discussions include identifying things that are above the line versus below the line. It is a way to open a discussion between the teacher and the students at whatever level they are at. The students learn responsibility with the ability to earn courage coupons for being caught doing something right by a grownup outside their classroom or doing a specific job within the classroom. The class combines their coupons and cash them in for things like a movie party to reward and celebrate the good behavior. The students reinforce and encourage each other to behave above the line for the good of all in the classroom. They are also quick to help each other solve problems and make amends after they students involved come up with a solution to their problem. Obviously not all problems can be solved with fix it plans. More severe behaviors of a violent nature need to be and are handled directly with the teacher and the support staff with parent involvement as in the past. The fix it plan is then made with the student, the teacher and the principal with some form of apology to the wronged party and some type of restitution to the offending student. This reinforces the life lesson of a consequence to an action. Nothing is perfect, but the more this policy is used and modified to be applied in the building, the more effective it becomes. As a parent, I am happy my children are being taught life skills to resolve day to day problems. To me learning life skills is a vital part of their education.
Thomas J. Mertz