Cherry Valley Elementary focuses on behavioral issues

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TEREZA HANSON, left, a counselor at Cherry Valley Elementary in Polson, stands with principal Rhonda Crowl. The school is working together to create routines with students. (Ashley Fox/Lake County Leader)

Faculty at Cherry Valley Elementary are investing extra time in their youngsters now with the goal the kids grow up, applying what they’re learning.

“We’re finding that teachers love it. It’s successful,” Principal Rhona Crowl said.

The Polson elementary school has spent this school year largely focusing on trauma-informed care, ensuring that childrens’ developmental needs are met.

During the first 30 minutes of the school day, a ‘soft start’ is practiced, where Crowl explained teachers teach self-regulation, helping students become aware of what they are feeling and why.

It’s also a good time to check in with students, she said, making sure they’ve eaten.

Bookbags with basic toiletries are available for students in case they need to brush their hair or brush their teeth, Crowl said.

“We’ve got a lot of children in trauma. It’s the nature of our community right now,” she added.

The inspiration to focus on trauma-informed care came after Stacy York, a therapist who has worked with community leaders regarding children in dangerous situations, spoke with Cherry Valley staff.

It was recognized that some little ones are still developmentally in an infant or toddler emotional state, and sometimes when their emotions are heightened, staff asks if the kids need a hug.

That’s when staff noticed that when the kids are picked up, if the adult doesn’t immediately start rocking to help soothe the child, then the child does.

“We feel their bodies melt,” Tereza Hanson, school counselor, said, adding that the connection helps calm the kids and regulate them.

One idea that Crowl and Hanson are brainstorming is finding ways to get rocking chairs around the school.

Right now, a rocking chair is in the preschool room, but Crowl said she’d like to see chairs in the lobby and in classrooms.

“We’ve got a lot of young families” with mothers who sometimes need to take a moment to rock babies or little ones before the school day starts, Crowl said.

Hanson said that by teachers checking in with students each morning, and throughout the day, “incredible relationships” are being built that stretch beyond the classroom setting.

“It’s important for the students to have a person” to talk to, she said.

Besides giving students a foundation to be more in tune with how to deescalate emotions, Crowl explained that teaching children how to deal with stress now will hopefully help lower the suicide rate into teen years.

Hanson said that she’s proud of the staff for taking time out to spend with students.

“Even with traditional teaching… I’m so proud of the teachers and the lens-shift,” she started, noting that teachers are taking the opportunity to view children behavior in a different way compared to previous traditional teaching methods where homelife wasn’t taken into consideration.

“That’s a hard feat, and they’ve done such an amazing job.”

Anyone interested in donating opportunities, whether toiletries, snacks, clothing or other needs, should contact the Polson School District office at 406-883-6355.

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