New Brooks lunchroom program halves discipline incidents

? Dividing students into two groups each lunch period reduces crowds, gives more room for play.

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By DREW CARTER

A new lunchroom supervision strategy brought about by the improvement process at Brooks Middle School has improved safety, reduced custodial work and reduced disciplinary referrals by half during lunchtime.

That's part of the message that Brooks School Leadership Team (SLT) representatives plan to deliver to the District 97 Board of Education tonight at its regular meeting in an update of the improvement process.

The process started more than a year ago with the hiring of a consultant to identify critical issues needing to be addressed at the school. Concerns about the lunchroom were in the discipline charter, a report constructed over the summer with the help of a new consultant who identified component problems of issues and ways to mend them.

The idea to divide students during each lunch period into two major groups?#34;one for eating, another for socializing?#34;began last spring in the school's discipline committee. The thrust of the move is that with fewer students occupying any single area, disciplinary incidents will decline.

And they have, the school reports.

Less that two weeks after the change was implemented Nov. 9, the average weekly referral rate during the lunch periods had been halved, from 10 to 5.

"The biggest difference is that you don't have 200 kids in the same place at the same time," said Marylee Henricks, assistant principal for sixth grade.

That means more time to spend socializing, and more space to run around?#34;something particularly important to sixth graders, the youngest students at the school, Henricks said.

She tells her fellow assistant principals: "Your kids can sit. My kids are bouncing while they eat."

Madeleine Dam, as the mother of boys, isn't surprised the change has reduced discipline referrals. Her sons had received referrals for "playground-like behavior" in the past, she said.

Dam is also the former co-chair of the SLT discipline committee and organizer of a parent volunteer program to supplement lunchroom supervision.

Dam said parents have been eager to help. Nearly 40 have signed on to help for some amount of time every day, week or month. Two or three parents are scheduled for each of three lunch periods every day, she said.

The "biggest hurdle" so far has been which kids get to eat first, and which ones have to wait, Henricks said. Either way, students get about 20 minutes to eat and the same amount to play inside or out, with board games, cards, or reading available indoors, and running around and the occasional pickup touch football game outdoors on days when the physical education classes are not using the athletic field.

Today marks the midpoint from the beginning of the new lunch program to the end of school before the holiday break, so the groups are being flip-flopped for first dibs on eating. A permanent schedule for changing times hasn't been decided yet, Henricks said.

Some kids love the new program, others don't, said Dam, who has a child on either side of the issue.

Administrators thought very carefully about traffic patterns before rolling out the new program, and talked with kids about which group they wanted to be a part of. Friends wanting to stay together were put into the same group, Henricks said.

"We didn't want anyone to feel cut off. We didn't want anyone to feel isolated," she said.

The results of the lunchroom change are indicative of the process that brought the change about, said SLT co-chair Andi Dunn.

"It's very gratifying when you get good results after you've done good work," Dunn said.

Other improvements expected to be presented to the board are:

? Principal Flora Green has been working on a vision statement with input from faculty and parents, and student council sponsored a motto election that students voted on Nov. 2. The winning motto was, "Brooks students are like eagles. We fly high, go far and peer ahead."

? To improve communication, a weekly listserv has been established. "People absolutely love it," Dunn said, adding that it's catching on and more people are submitting announcements. The announcements are also posted on the door of the school, and on the school's website.

? Differentiated instruction teacher in-services.

? Results of a beginning-of-the-year survey given to teachers, students and parents will be presented to the board. A mid-year survey will be conducted in January, and an end-of-the-year one later.

? Putting together a bully prevention program for January

? Using the district database to track discipline referrals.

Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

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