DANVILLE — Northeast Elementary Magnet School students will have a chance to step into leadership roles this year.
Staff members are making plans to establish the school's first student advisory committee and a peer-mediation program.
"This year, we really want to work on increasing student involvement," Principal Cheryl McIntire said. "I feel that we've done such a good job getting our health and wellness council and (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) program in place, and getting great support from our parents and staff. Now we really want to focus on that student piece."
Northeast, which runs on a balanced-calendar, starts school today. Kindergarten through fifth-grade students will meet their teachers and classmates and go over their classroom rules in the morning. They will return on Tuesday for their first full day.
While their summer break was shortened from six weeks to five this year, McIntire said, staff and students are eager to start.
"It was the right amount of time," she said late last week. "Most of the parents who have come in say their kids are ready to come back and ready to go."
When staff returned on Friday, they discussed Northeast's goals and objectives for the year, including getting students more involved. They agreed that establishing a student advisory committee would be a good starting place.
"The kids hear us all day long," said Patti Rull, the school's data and instructional facilitator. "We, in turn, need to listen to them and hear their ideas."
"If the kids have a chance to have a voice and be involved, they'll buy into it and support it," added Kate Cox, the school's speech pathologist.
The committee, made up of a representative from each classroom, will meet regularly with adviser Megan Mohr, the school's social worker.
Their task will be identifying successes to celebrate, lessons they've learned, discussing PBIS and health and wellness activities and planning new projects and activities.
"All of the ideas will be student-driven," McIntire said. "They will come up with projects and lead them. We are basically creating future leaders."
Staff also are interested in researching peer-mediation programs and tailoring one for their school.
Peer mediators are students, fourth- and fifth-graders in Northeast's case, who help resolve disputes between two peers or peer groups and keep the problems from escalating. The students will be trained to listen to both sides, and use problem-solving and negotiating skills to help the two parties find a solution.
"Because of their age, (the peer mediators) may have a better understanding of the problem, how important it is to the kids, and how they're feeling," Rull said, adding the basis of a playground or lunchroom argument between youngsters may seem trivial to an adult.
"They can think about the problem from their point of view and brainstorm to come up with solutions," Cox said, adding that that empowers students and teaches all children the right way to go about resolving conflict.
Cox and Rull believe the new programs will build upon the school's BEE (Behave Excellent Everyday) Team, which the school uses to teach and reinforce positive behavior. Students are taught to be respectful, responsible, safe and healthy. When staff see them exemplifying that behavior, they can reward students and nominate them for the team.
Also this year, Northeast will continue to focus on math and reading, McIntire said.
The school, which has had health and wellness focus since 2007, also will continue with daily nutrition and physical fitness activities — and a few special ones throughout the year — that focus on teaching students to make healthy choices.
Last year, Northeast became the first elementary school in the United States to earn the Gold National Recognition Award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation for its efforts. "Once you achieve gold, now the goal is to sustain what you've done," McIntire said. "I'm confident we'll do that. Now it's who we are, and part of what we do every day."