By Oona Mackesey-Green
Due to the late October thunderstorm, students at Lake View Elementary Community School had been kept indoors for recess. By now, at 5:30 pm, many of the students had already been at the school for over nine hours, and the long day of pent up energy buzzed throughout the classroom. The first families had arrived for the third session of “Peaceful Families, Peaceful Schools,” a six-week class that teaches self-calming techniques to help with anxiety, concentration, self-control and strong emotions.
Instructor Rena Kornblum’s voice cut through the enthusiastic side conversations with an even-toned reminder: “What we’re doing now is being calm while we eat.” Although the reminder seemed aspirational at first, the elementary-aged students bouncing around the room slowly joined their parents, Kornblum and several volunteers in a seated circle on the carpet to finish their meals.
The hourlong class is part of a broader program using the “Disarming the Playground: Violence Prevention Through Movement” curriculum developed by Kornblum, a dance/movement therapist. Community school resource coordinator Rachel Deterding said the program aims to support peaceful interactions with families through social-emotional skill building; it includes classroom instruction, teacher wellness courses, coaching for recess and MSCR after-school staff and family group sessions. Lessons of self-directed focus and resisting distractions are translated into activities during the class, channeling the children’s energy into specific movements. This evening, they worked with stretch cloths.
“Who is ready to do some moving? Do you remember talking about resisting last week? Now we’re going to practice literally pulling ourselves back with the cloth,” directed Kornblum. Everyone held a part of the fabric and pulled it away from the center’s circle.
“What did it feel like to pull back?”
“You have to say no so that other people don’t take control of you,” responded one student.
Despite the long days, both parents and children participating described the class as a welcome change from the usual school day.
“It’s really fun,” said ten-year-old Justin Cass. The only challenge, he said, is stopping. “Every Tuesday I get to have fun, and then we stop. And then we have fun again, but the stopping is hard.”
The programming is funded by a grant from Madison Community Foundation (MCF), through the Jason Zivu Thomas Memorial Fund for Children. Goals include increasing the number of students and staff that feel safe at the school and decreasing the number of behavior support calls.
Last year there were 1,745 calls for behavior support at Lake View, including 10 percent involving a violent act.
“Last year a lot of people felt that we were in crisis mode,” said Deterding. “We’re trying to be on the proactive end by bringing in needed services this year, now that Lake View is a community school. Neighborhood violence really affects kids and they bring it to school, whether it’s a mental preoccupation, or imitating behavior they’ve seen neighbors or loved ones do. There are lots of unmet needs, and this is one strategy we’re trying to implement.”
Kornblum has worked in classrooms at the school for the last eight years and built relationships with the students over time. The MCF grant allowed Kornblum to continue working with students after retiring, and to expand that work to connect with parents. Families work together for the first 40 minutes of each session; but during the last 20 minutes, the students play in the gym, giving parents and Kornblum a chance to talk. For parent Brett Moore, who participates with three of his children, the support from other parents is as valuable as the lessons.
“It gives parents a chance to interact when they otherwise wouldn’t have met each other,” said Moore. There are times when Moore will run into other parents from the class at school functions and, he said, “It takes the edge off. You can take a few minutes and meet and greet each other, and say how are you.”
Justin said that the class “has really helped me when I start to get angry. It used to be if somebody would say something little that it would break my whole day. But now I have techniques where I can calm down.”
Parent Mary Cass grew up on the Northside and attended Emerson Elementary. Four of her five children transitioned to Lake View this year from Emerson when the family moved.
“They’ve had a hard transition,” said Cass. “It’s hard for them to get through a whole day at school.” The class has helped, she said, and she appreciates “seeing how good Miss Rena is with the kids. All of the volunteers have pitched in. [The kids] each get extra attention.”
Still, she said, “There is so much work to do.”
As the lesson ended, Kornblum handed out fidget spinners. “This is like a distraction,” said Kornblum. The students explored the fidget spinners before setting them down to practice focusing on an object in the middle of the circle. After focusing, they would have a chance to play with them. One student leaned forward and stared intently. His hands clasped the fidget spinner, but his eyes remained fixed on the center of the circle.
To learn more about the class or to get involved in supporting Lake View students, contact Rachel Deterding at 501-3112 or firstname.lastname@example.org.