Little legs wiggled or collapsed crisscross applesauce as circle time began in Megan Carrolls classroom.
By TRACI ANGEL
Special to The Star
Look at your neighbor and wave hi , the voices chimed.
Hands jutted upward as the preschoolers twisted from side to side to greet their friends.
Look at your neighbor and shake hands the song continued.
Arms extended and tiny fingers curled around other tiny fingers while faces reflected smiles and expressions.
That eye contact can be tough to accomplish when you are just 3 years old, but these daily introductions are an important part of the Grace Early Childhood Care and Education Centers learning philosophy.
The Belton schools mission emphasizes caring for and about others, and teachers use techniques throughout the day to focus childrens attention away from themselves, and instead, on everyones importance and classroom role.
This is all part of a school family model called Conscious Discipline, which encourages educators to teach children that they are valued. The idea is that students will treat their peers in same way, and this continual interaction will in turn create a warm and productive learning environment.
Conscious Discipline is not just a name or title, but a blending of all things together, principal Rhonda Hardee said.
Teachers help children see the connection.
They learn, My presence matters and I make a contribution to the community and everybody has a contribution, said staff member Kelly Myers.
The philosophy, which is finding its way into homes and classrooms across the country, began with Becky Bailey, a national expert in childhood education and developmental psychology.
The focus is to draw students attention to situations as teaching moments.
Rather than singling out a disruptive student, teachers allow other students to observe and speak about caring and respecting others when something happens. At Grace this also means social and emotional learning that pinpoints self-awareness as well as empathy.
The teachers provide evidence in anecdotes and snapshots they send to parents throughout the day.
One day, student Ysaac Salcedo saw that Owen Ismert was upset after he fell down. He offered to get an ice pack and even held it to Owens forehead.
Another time Ellie Gleason noticed another student was absent and announced, Im going to make a card for him. She decorated a Wishing You Well card and put it in his classroom mailbox.
Devin Gulley and Christian Medrano pretended to suit up in firefighter uniforms that were art smocks. When a younger boy, Nate Morley, had a more difficult time trying to put his on, the three cooperated for several minutes so Nate could be dressed for play.
In these instances, children were building self-awareness, as well as learning how to interact with others, Hardee said.
The approach empowers the children, Carroll said.
What Ive found is that the kids rely less on me to help them through (conflicts), she said. Im still here to support, but they build that community.
Discipline also takes a new form.
Instead of tagging bad kids, students look at misbehavior through a new lens. Perhaps another child is frustrated or has a problem that classmates could help solve.
You dont see snickering and meanness, teacher Shannon Grine said.
Grace is the only Belton school with the program, but teachers often speak to other teachers and to the public. The district also offers parenting workshops using the strategy.
Lisa Cummings, director of special services for Belton, said the Conscious Discipline approach falls into the districts wider initiative of character-building.
District schools have unique ways to incorporate these Pirate Principles. Hillcrest Elementary, for example, has a community-building activity called Bunches, which groups students with others of a different grade level.
The character-building extends beyond the classroom to bus drivers, food preparation workers and the maintenance staff, as well as larger efforts such as a student forum in March aimed at preventing bullying.
The importance of the initiative is integrating it into the curriculum, Cummings said.
Everyone has to have this component, she said.
As circle time continued on a February morning, Oren Sisson donned an apron and approached each of his classmates to see how they would like to be greeted. Then came time for the children to count and see who was absent. They noticed that Fale Lemautu and staff member Isabel Izydorek were away.
Voices rose to recognize them.
We miss you, hurry back to school. We wish you well, we wish you well. All through the day today, we wish you well.