October 1, 1996 in Nation/World

Grade Schools Add Social Skills To Curriculum District 81 Plans To Launch ‘180 Lessons For Daily Living’

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Some Spokane elementary students soon will find math and reading mingled with lessons on apologizing, lying, gossiping and handling hard days.

A new program, called “180 Lessons for Daily Living,” is designed to help children learn how to act in class by delving into topics once mostly left to parents.

Teachers will train students in a wide array of social skills and ideas, from handling distractions to making and keeping friends to valuing differences.

Educators in charge of the program, set to debut later this month in several District 81 schools, are worried parents might think teachers are treading on their turf.

“The concerns will be how to make sure we don’t overstep the line with what the parents want the development to be vs. what social skills we want to teach,” said Fran Mester, who coordinates the program.

“We’re going to have to be real careful that we’re sticking to basic interactive skills.”

Teachers wonder how they’ll find time in an already crammed school day to teach the lessons while spending ample time on the basics. Some applaud the formal plan to address problems they grapple with anyway in classrooms and on playgrounds.

“We really do have expectations of kids at school,” said Carol Murphy, a school nursing coordinator who wrote the program. “This tells them what they are and how to accomplish it.”

Murphy said she failed to find a school district with such a comprehensive social skills program. “I don’t think there’s anything like this out there.”

Spokane administrators asked interested teachers to apply for the program, which initially will be used in a dozen or so elementary classrooms.

Ideally, teachers will spend 10 to 20 minutes each day on the topics, giving kids time to practice lessons, such as “Calming Ourselves Down” and “Communicating Our Feelings.”

The lessons get more complex as students get older.

First-grade students, for instance, are taught to repeat “I am special because there is no one else exactly like me in the whole world.”

That’s dropped in later years, said Murphy, when the expression might be interpreted as conceit.

“Handling Distractions” is another first-grade topic. Children are taught to pay attention to the story of “The Three Little Pigs” while classmates try to distract them by whispering in their ears.

A listening lesson tells them to stop what they’re doing, turn to the speaker and “look at the person if our cultures permit.”

Fourth-graders, meanwhile, are taught to respect “personal space.” One rule they’ll be taught: “We ask permission to enter another person’s personal space or to touch another person.”

Sixth-graders have five lessons in not lying and nine in managing anger. They’ll also be taught to handle harassment, teasing and peer pressure.

All elementary levels get lessons in culture, diversity and equity. “Our differences make us unique,” one lesson states. “Our differences make us interesting and special.”

The new lesson plan could eventually replace several shorter programs that already give students bursts of social skills training, Mester said.

Some teachers see the lessons as a good way to handle problems they say inevitably arise when dozens of children get together, such as fighting and name-calling.

“We’re always trying to teach social skills,” said first-grade teacher Jill Ripley, who has applied to try the lessons at Roosevelt Elementary, 333 W. 14th.

“I realize this is the parents’ job, but especially with first-graders, you do a little parenting, too. They have to learn to get along together.”

Ripley and other educators said more and more children come to school unprepared to handle problems. Some students have trouble dealing with others who are from different backgrounds.

“It seems to be a larger majority of the children each year who are coming to school without social skills,” said Ripley, a teacher for 14 years.

Still, Ripley said, she’d be hard-pressed to find 10 to 20 minutes to spare for the lessons. “Five minutes, maybe.”

Mester acknowledged finding time to teach the plan could be difficult or impossible. “It should not replace any of the basic reading, math, and language arts activities,” she said.

Students at Grant Elementary, 1300 E. Ninth, won’t participate this year because they’re busy with programs that cover similar issues, said Principal Steven Indgjerd.

“If we keep adding, we run out of time,” he said. “Our main thing here is academics.”

Grant students already participate in the drug-awareness plan that replaced the DARE program, and the school has its own “behavior development” plan aimed at reducing discipline, Indgjerd said.

At Moran Prairie Elementary, 4224 E. 57th, teachers who participate in the pilot will be encouraged to pick key lessons rather than use one every day, said principal Marilyn Highberg.

“It takes away from the basic program we need to be doing,” she said.

Highberg said she suspected teachers would be more comfortable leaving some of the topics, such as handling grief, to school counselors.

Both Highberg and Indgjerd said they hadn’t yet seen the complete set of lessons.

Cheryl Kammerzell, a Moran Prairie fourth-grade teacher, said she spends at least 15 minutes a day dealing with problems in the lessons as they arise.

“It’d be nice to have something to pull out and do an activity,” said Kammerzell, a teacher for 24 years. “Even I’m sometimes at a loss.”

She, too, said she’s noticed more children coming to school with poor social skills. They’re also more stressed about world problems, Kammerzell said. “They’re so much more aware of social issues and pressures and international situations.”

For years, Kammerzell encouraged kids to bring news articles to class for discussion. They once brought feature articles on animals. Now they want to discuss articles about war and homicide.

Once teachers try the new lessons, they’ll be asked to suggest changes, Mester said. Lessons that don’t work could be eliminated, while others might be added. If the program bombs, it could be dropped altogether.

If kids, parents and teachers like the program, administrators may try to get it in all Spokane elementary schools.

“If parents already teach their kids at home, then hooray,” said Murphy. “We’re reinforcing it.”

, DataTimes MEMO: A complete list of all 180 “Lessons for Daily Living at School” is available on Virtually Northwest, The Spokesman-Review’s on-line service, at http://www.VirtuallyNW.com.

This sidebar appeared with the story:

LESSONS IN LIFE

Here are some of the “180 Lessons for Daily Living” Spokane School District 81 elementary teachers will present this year:

Not Lying

Introducing Other People

Communicating Our Feelings (group practice)

Showing Concern (group practice)

Interrupting Culture (equity)

Managing Our Anger (group practice)

Handling Put-Downs (harassment)

Saying “No”

Handling Being Left Out (group practice)

A complete list of all 180 “Lessons for Daily Living at School” is available on Virtually Northwest, The Spokesman-Review’s on-line service, at http://www.VirtuallyNW.com.

This sidebar appeared with the story: LESSONS IN LIFE Here are some of the “180 Lessons for Daily Living” Spokane School District 81 elementary teachers will present this year: Not Lying Introducing Other People Communicating Our Feelings (group practice) Showing Concern (group practice) Interrupting Culture (equity) Managing Our Anger (group practice) Handling Put-Downs (harassment) Saying “No” Handling Being Left Out (group practice)

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