First 5 funds program for social emotional health
Early Childhood Education and Special Services team to target challenging behavior
Each day, teacher Linda Contreras uses circle time at the Senaida Garcia Child Development Center to engage her preschoolers in discussions. Through books, puppets, art projects or other classroom objects, she draws them into simple conversations that have a deeper purpose. Recently, she led them to talk about the characters in a book. It's clear from Ms. Contreras' questions that she is looking for answers that involve the characters' emotions and actions. "When Katie didn't want to play with Jasmine, what could Nathan have done to help Jasmine?" Some of the children answer, "He could have played with her." Ms. Contreras smiles, "Yes, he could have played with Jasmine!"
The curriculum Linda Contreras is using to help the children understand appropriate behavior is called Second Step and it is part of a new partnership between the Early Childhood Education Program (ECEP) and Special Services, with funding from First 5 Tulare County. First 5's Early Intervention Partnership Project grant is making possible one-on-one behavior intervention in the classroom and at home. Children are learning coping mechanisms, how to identify their feelings and how to manage their behaviors to build social skills.
In addition to supporting the child, trained behavioral staff support ECEP classroom teachers, helping them learn new behavioral approaches. Over the course of the three-year grant, staff in all of ECEP's centers will be trained. Through in-home visits, the parents also learn intervention techniques so the child experiences consistency at school and home.
The behavioral intervention techniques are simple and are centered on providing positive reinforcement, structure and routine. For example, a child may be given a token each time he responds appropriately, knowing that when he collects a certain number of tokens he earns the Ninja Turtle stickers he values. Or a student may be given a piece to a puzzle each time she follows an instruction during a classroom activity. Once the puzzle is complete, she earns a small reward. The staff member's follow-through on each intervention strategy builds trust, while the student begins to understand the program.
Rather than relying on time-outs, this approach allows the child to make his or her own choices. Children learn to ask appropriately for what they want rather than throwing a tantrum. These simple steps are resulting in change on many fronts. Teachers are clamoring for more information about the approach and parents are eagerly participating in training. The children are better able to engage in the preschool curriculum and become ready for kindergarten.
Preschoolers are expelled at four times the rate of students in kindergarten through grade 12. Their expulsion is the result of behaviors such as screaming, kicking, biting and refusing to listen, as well as self-injurious behavior. "Preschoolers act out for various reasons," said Tiffany Owens-Stark, program specialist for the Special Services Division. "Behaviors can be for attention, to avoid something they do not want to do, or to get things they want." With safety as the priority of schools, student's aggressive and inappropriate behavior can lead to immediate expulsion. When student's first educational experience results in failure, it sets the stage for further challenges in school.
Mark is a child who has been provided one-on-one behavior intervention at his preschool. He is a charming four-year-old who ran for the door at every opportunity and even tried to climb the fence. Additionally, he exhibited aggressive behaviors toward his peers who, in response, chose not to be around him. He then became upset that he had no friends. Ms. Owens-Stark reports that Mark's behavior tutor has worked with him and now his teacher sees an absolute change in behavior. He has learned to control his impulses, ask for permission and work for prizes that he gets to choose.
The overall goal of this innovative project is to address the problem behavior early and prevent the need for more intensive services later. Over the life of the grant, data is being collected to monitor students' success and improved skills. Giving students the necessary skills to better prepare them for kindergarten is the primary goal of the Early Childhood Education Program and First 5 Tulare County - a partnership making the difference in many young lives.
Jim Vidak, County Superintendent of Schools
Tulare County Office of Education
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