Watching Change Happen

by Shameka Waiters, Former Program Director

“Ms. Shameka, Kevin is under the desk again and won’t come out of Academic Center”… “ Ms. Shameka, Shanell is being very disrespectful and using curse words”… “Ms. Shameka, Jason is in the bathroom stall and won’t come out.”

This is how the first few weeks went for me at James Simons Elementary this year. As the Peace Manager I got called non-stop to address behavior problems that most people would label as “extreme.”

I’d rush to the side of the WINGSLeader facing the problem at hand and try to discipline the event that warranted my services. Then I’d take the emotionally-distraught child to a quiet corner to listen to what was bothering them. I would get answers like “I didn’t finish my homework; that’s why I was hiding under my desk” or “someone was bothering me so I went and hid in the bathroom.” I received answers that many would not consider deserving of such extreme reactions by the kids. But the more I dialogued with each kid I was called to work with, the more I realized that the answer to their problems was communication and learning to better express how they felt. “Simple,” I thought to myself!

What I learned was that many of the kids in our program have missed learning these important skills. As the weeks have ticked by; however, and more weekly social and emotional learning objectives have been introduced to our kids, I’ve watched as the calls lessen, and the extreme reactions become less extreme. As we cover each one of the objectives from our self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making and other SEL-skills arsenal I watch as the actions of our kids become more appropriate.

Instead of hiding in the bathroom, I have sat with Jason, who now talks to me about problems he has with classmates. Shanell now realizes how her words affect others. And Kevin knows that having a tantrum won’t help him get what he wants.

The 80+ kids at James Simons Elementary, just in their first year at WINGS, are already exhibiting skills of socially and emotionally well-adjusted kids. While we still have more to teach the kids at James Simons, it’s been an amazing experience to watch the daily progress of many of the kids we reach. The sky really is the limit at WINGS, and the proof is in the details!