I was in Anchorage for the first three days of this week attending the Alaska Statewide Special Education Conference. As Kenai’s large, open-enrollment, Neighborhood School we are fortunate to have the staff and facilities to meet the specialized educational needs of students with a wide range of cognitive and emotional disabilities. In fact Mountain View has one of, if not the, largest Intensive Needs program in the Kenai Peninsula School District. The benefits from these programs extend to every adult and student in the building.
Our Intensive Needs staff is an amazing collection of teachers and aides dedicated to helping each of our most needy students reach their individual educational, life skills and social goals. The empathy with which they approach their jobs is an inspiration for our staff and an awesome situation for all of our students to experience. Are there hiccups that may disrupt the flow of the school day or cause temporary disruption in common areas? You bet there are; and every one of them is an opportunity for students and staff to see these situations handled with consistency, care and compassion.
Our goal is to integrate our IN students into the fabric of our school as much as safety, and educational appropriateness allows. As these students succeed and achieve their goals our general education students get the benefit of recognizing that obstacles can be overcome with the help of empathy, care and compassion. Some students may also take pride in the fact that their own presence and acceptance of their IN peers may have actually contributed to these students’ success. Perhaps they will be more prepared when they eventually find themselves in a situation when it is their turn to be the one who needs to act with compassion and empathy to someone in need.
It is often hard to tell who receives the larger benefit when Mountain View Elementary Students perform acts of community service. From the smiles on the faces of senior citizens when our students teamed up with Hilcorp to serve them Thanksgiving Dinner to the supplies the Kenai Animal Shelter was able to buy from the money raised by our Kindergarten’s Pennies for Pets fundraiser the benefits to those our student serve are tangible. What may be less visible but equally as important are the benefits our student receive from their efforts.
That “feel good” experience from helping others goes deeper and last longer than just while the students engage in service activities. Researchers have shown that community service provides students with a feeling of social connectedness, of being a contributing member of a community, which in turn leads to a “desire to cooperate and be involved in positive ways” (Smith 1999). As our school builds a sense of community through service projects our students gain a sense of self-esteem based on being a contributing member. This increase in positive feelings extends into the classroom where positive social interactions promote increased learning.
Mountain View Elementary’s goal for the year is to have 150 students participate in community service projects outside of the school and to have our students participate in 6 site-based community service projects. These numbers are approximately 25% higher than last year. A new project this year begun by our 3rd grade, will be working with Central Peninsula Hospital to create gift bags of baby essentials and clothing for new parents to take home. We will continue our relationships with the Kenai Senior Center, the City of Kenai, local veterans, local businesses and are seeking other opportunities.
If you have an idea for a way to get some of our students out into the community for service projects please contact Karl Kircher, principal, at 283-8600
This week a parent brought their student down to class at 9:05 and was surprised to find the class empty as the students had already gone to music. She commented “wow you guys get started right away”. I took this as a complement as “getting started right away” is something our staff takes pride in. Our teachers realize that every minute counts and that a good focused start to the morning sets the tone for the day. A quick tour of our classrooms at 8:55 will reveal instruction happening in all our classrooms.
Students who come late break the instructional routine for that classroom, teachers have to help that student get caught up in the lesson, which in-turn affects all the students in that classroom. Students who come late also start their day of harried as opposed to the daily routine of greeting their peers and teachers and taking care of their morning duties, this often results in those being “off “ for an extended period of time until they settle in.
For the benefit of all students it would be greatly appreciated if you have your students to school no later than 8:45, morning recess bell, so that they and their peers can start the day on a positive note and learning will not have to be interrupted.