Thinking positive at Southeast


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Eighth-grade student Lexine Shumm has been reminding friends at school how much she likes them.

From the desk to Lexine’s left, Savannah Reese said she’s noticed the effort.

“That makes me happy,” she said, coloring a chubby gray penguin on a Christmas card.

They agree that schoolwide community-service projects and positive-behavior support methods, such as Lexine showing appreciation for her friends, have helped improve Southeast Junior High.

District officials and teachers at Southeast formed a six-member positive-behavior support team for the school last fall and started teaching lessons associated with the program this year.

The team has encouraged students to be responsible and courteous by training staff in a schoolwide project in which teachers hand out “SOAR” tickets as rewards, said Kelsi Salter, a teacher at Southeast. SOAR is an acronym for behaviors the team supports: self-discipline, ownership, achievement, and respect.

Students earning the tickets are eligible to win prizes, such as “first in line” lunch passes and candy, Salter said.

Southeast is one of 13 schools in the Iowa City School District with such teams, said Kerry Wiersma, a district project director.

District officials said they hope to institute support teams at all district schools during the next three years, Wiersma said, and the project is part of the Safe Schools, Healthy Students grant the U.S. Department of Education awarded the district last year.

Savannah said the positive-behavior support methods are easier to understand than a similar project the school used before.

“Students want to be told that they’re doing good and they’ve achieved it,” she said.

Southeast students are also working on community service projects, such as making Christmas cards for the Ronald McDonald House and writing thank-you cards for people who have done good deeds.

Students chose the projects they wanted to work on by voting in their homerooms, Salter said, and they can earn SOAR tickets if they stay on task and focus on the projects.

Students are enjoying the projects, said Natalee Thompson, a special-education teacher at Southeast.

“The kids all have some ownership in the project because they picked it themselves,” she said, and her students will finish writing letters to U.S. troops just before winter break.

Lexine said she enjoys the projects because they encourage her to think about “real stuff.”

“It sounds really cheesy, but if you actually go out and do that, it makes you feel like a better person,” she said.

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