Not every school day starts off good for every student.
An argument with a sibling, getting in trouble or even more serious issues — like dealing with death, divorce or other family upheaval, all examples of things that can affect the emotional state of a child.
Regardless, they are expected to go to school, behave, take tests and learn, even when tears are flowing.
The True Wildcat program is designed as both a way to address emotional needs while incentivizing positive behavior.
“When a child acts up, there is almost always a reason,” said Chad Johnson, principal at Pahvant Elementary School in Richfield.
The first component of the program is the addition of staff members who act as refocus coordinators. These coordinators work with Cliff Whatcott, one of five mental health coordinators who have been hired by Sevier School District. He is tasked with being a resource at both Pahvant and Ashman elementary schools, and is part of a mental health initiative undertaken by the district.
“They build a genuine relationship with each child,” Johnson said. He said the relationships are key to the success of the effort. The idea isn’t to isolate the child or make him or her feel like they are in trouble.
Refocus coordinators visit with students in every class during the day.
“Everyday we make it to every classroom,” said Carie Monroe, refocusing coordinator. She said sometimes the time with the students is spent just talking, while other times it’s used to engage researched-based activities that are good for developing social skills.
Teachers help by learning about and watching for students showing signs of stress.
The refocus coordinators are also outside during recess and lunch, watching for students who appear isolated from others.
Students who appear to have some type of emotional turmoil spend time working with a refocus coordinator.
The idea is to help the students work out whatever is bothering them so they can calm down and return to class ready to learn.
“The cool part is this is a support for kids who haven’t had it in the past,” Johnson said.
Another part of the program is to focus on restorative practices rather than punitive actions for students who misbehave. Instead of punishing a student or sending them to the principal’s office, students meet with the refocus staff, or with Whatcott.
“It’s another intervention,” Whatcott said. He said oftentimes teachers can see pressure building up in a child, which can be due to any number of reasons. Rather than responding to when the child acts out, the refocus coordinators are brought in before a student gets in trouble.
“It’s a lot like coaching,” said Mark Stewart, literacy coach at Pahvant. He said when behaviors get a student in trouble; the refocusing program acts as a layer of social instruction that provides alternatives.
“Social success can be as important as academic success,” Stewart said. He said the program has been working, as discipline issues have gone down.
The over-arching goal is to turn what could be a negative student experience into a positive one, Johnson said.
To that end the True Wildcat ticket was created for teachers to reward good behavior. Teachers are encouraged to hand out three tickets a week to students who they see doing good things on a social level.
“If a teacher sees a kid going the extra mile, they give them one,” Johnson said. The cards are perforated so that students can rip one end off and put it in a drawing for various prizes.
“The way it’s worked out is the kids are more excited for the ticket than the prizes,” Johnson said. He said a boy who received one of the tickets the previous week carried it around, clearly proud of it.
The other end of the card is for the students to take home and show their parents. Teachers are encouraged to write on the back of the cards and explain what good thing the student was observed doing.
The program also includes home visits, where the administrators and refocus staff members will visit with parents or guardians to celebrate positive things a student has done in the classroom or playground.
PAWS posters in the halls have reminders of True Wildcat qualities — Positive, Accountable, Willing to help and Successful — and ways to achieve those qualities.