Source: Sherman Publications

More than three Rs taught in Lake Orion schools

by Lance Farrell

November 07, 2012

You’ve heard of the three R’s, but here are two other ways Lake Orion School District helps to build your children into strong and productive citizens.

Twice a week, Webber Elementary Principal Sarah Manzo and Kindergarten teacher Dawn Burks coach girls from grades three through five in a program called Girls on the Run.

These meetings have two objectives. One is to increase the girls’ physical activity levels, and so the coaches have the girls run up to three miles. The second objective is to teach the girls lessons that help them make intelligent decisions to avoid risky behavior.

According to Coach Manzo, the group discusses items such as “having a positive attitude, having high self-esteem, dealing with people who are negative, dealing with gossip, and feeling good about being in your own skin, not only physically but also emotionally.”

Other important lessons taught in Girls on the Run are goal setting, how to say “no,” and how to avoid risky situations. A recent lesson was about smoking. In such situations, girls have to learn to say “no” and generally avoid the situation, Manzo said.

“It comes sometimes as a shock to some parents that we’re talking about this with our third graders, but these are topics that we need to at least address before it gets to a situation that presents itself to the girls,” said Manzo.

“We see a lot of girls whose bodies are changing, their minds are changing, and as the hormones kick in they are dealing with different aspects of their emotions and their physical eating, and so we talk about those healthy choices as well,” Manzo explained.

Though this is only the first semester for the program, coaches and parents are already seeing results. The skills and subjects taught at Girls on the Run, fundamental though they may be, are difficult to assess on a standardized test.

As difficult as judging mastery might be, Manzo said a test in daily life would be “when you see one of the girls responding to a situation. Maybe somebody is gossiping or maybe somebody is not being nice to somebody, then the measurement or assessment is how does that girl respond to the situation. It’s nothing that numbers are going to give us, it’s that qualitative assessment instead of quantitative.”

Jessica Mardlin, mother of McKenna Mardlin, a fifth grader at Webber Elementary spoke very highly of the after school program. She likes the changes she’s already seeing in her young daughter.

Girls on the Run “has helped [her daughter] to push negative thoughts aside or negative comments from other kids or peers.” One such lesson was about flipping a switch to turn a negative into a positive.

She told her mother about discharging the negative energy. “Mom, I just thought about what Coach Manzo said at Girls on the Run, and I just flipped that switch and I just turned it into a positive,” McKenna told her mother.

In sum, “it’s helped her tremendously in her day-to-day in how she thinks about situations,” Mardlin said.

Mardlin also said the running exercise after the character-building lesson has helped McKenna increase her strength and stamina. “I’m seeing it helping her in more ways than one,” Mardlin said.

An important aspect of the program is that it allows girls to improve self-image and security, and this spills over into relationships with the other kids, Mardlin said.

“These are girls that might not have normally become friends due to being in different grades, classes or social circle, but they have become friends and they have learned to respect each other, and to think positively for each other and to encourage each other,” said Mardlin.

Beyond the physical exercise, self-esteem building, risk-aversion, and emotional conditioning, Mardlin finds the greatest results in her own family structure.

“My husband and I will take our family out for a walk, and he and McKenna go for the run. So we’re getting out as a family and spend time together, where we typically wouldn’t. This forces us to spend time together and talk about our week and get some exercise at the same time.”

Based on the positive feedback coming from parents, Manzo anticipates a spring season. Right now, the classes are comprised of only fifteen girls and two coaches. If more girls want to join, Manzo expects to split the classes.

Manzo summarized the importance of the after school program by saying, “life is about choices, and the more positive choices we can make the better, not only our life but the better society will be in the end.” Blanche Sims Brag Tags

Lake Orion has many such educational initiatives that may not show up on a year-end standardized test. Another example of a difficult to assess but all-important aspect of a child’s education is seen over at Blanche Sims Elementary.

In what she calls the Respect Circle, Principal Jennifer Goethals pow-wows with her students in the morning. Standing in the middle, she announces birthdays for the month, and then the students and staff sing the school song and Happy Birthday together.

Goethals then talks about the school’s good behavior program, and presents “brag tags” to the best behaved students of the month.

The Respect Circle and Brag Tags are new for Blanche Sims this year. Goethals said her school teaches students “what respectful behaviors look like, what school is, what it means to be in control of yourself. If a student has trouble with that we re-teach them.”

The behavior program seeks to instill a life-long love of learning and positive self-image. Goethals knows that a child’s basic needs aren’t always met at home, and educators are responsible for meeting those needs.

“We feed kids, and we find snow pants. For instance, today, I got a $100 gift card for a family to Kroger because they were having trouble putting food on the table. Those are just things that we do because we love kids. You can’t measure that stuff.”

“The Respect Circle,” Goethals continued, is designed “to increase the feel of community in the building and to celebrate kids. Each week, teachers choose someone who has behaved well, has been a nice friend, and has basically shown a better role model on what good behavior looks like.”

The reason to go beyond the main three content areas (Reading, Writing, ‘Rithmetic) is that students will perform better as a result.

“If all a student’s basic needs are met, then they do better at learning and hence better on assessments,” Goethals argued. Basic needs “have to be in place before kids in Orion can think about doing well on a state assessment. Those are things that you can’t measure.”

Perhaps it is difficult for standardized exams to capture these types of gains, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be tested.

“Teachers and parents can tell a difference,” Goethals said. “But the state assessment doesn’t measure those things. We could tell you that we feel like it’s making a difference for our kids. They’re happy to come to school, our attendance is high, we have high turnout for school activities. Those things are how you measure a healthy school community, but I don’t know if you see that in MEAP scores.”

Superintendent Marion Ginopolis applauded the efforts of these two educators. She knows the value added to Lake Orion and the larger community when the entire child is considered when building a curriculum.

Goethals and Manzo are examples of “two of many initiatives that we’ve got that focus on the whole child and not just the academic part,” Ginopolis said.