LeDonna Griffin White is the principal at Masters Elementary School at 99th and Fort Streets. She holds education in high esteem: After the death of her mother, her father reared five children alone and stressed the importance of education, and she holds a doctorate in education.

Tommy Watson inspires teachers and students with “Secrets to Motivating Students,” a part of the Minnesota Humanities Center education strategy with the Omaha Public Schools. He shares about his rough times as a child and his success as an educator and consultant despite them.

Intrigued by Watson’s research-based ideas, Griffin set out to strive for no suspensions at Masters through a community service organization.

“Children deficient in reading or math would involve intervention. Shouldn’t we be doing the same thing when it comes to behavior? I don’t understand why we are suspending 5- to 11-year-old children,” Griffin said.

To start, the school’s leadership team met with Watson to determine some goals for their new program. They also received a “teach to learn” Nebraska State Education Association grant. The social skills taught are adapted from the Boys Town model.

Griffin had support from others, including her counselor Chelsa Hervert.

The program includes creating an intervention to build self-esteem, individual goal setting, self-reflection, accountability for action and celebration of successes. The community service attendance, which is during students’ lunchtime, is for children who are not problem-solving in a productive way. The counselor teaches life skills and has an opportunity for reteaching and developing social skills.

During community service, older trained students mentor younger students who are also having problems. Some of the community service expectations are to be respectful and kind, be a leader, have only positive expectations and stay focused on the task. Students have accountability as to what they did well and in identifying something they could work on the next day.

Hervert said, “What I have noticed is that students learn the ability to cope differently. One boy who had anger issues is now able to process and think through with the help of others. Students are able to take skills they have taught others and transfer them to the playground.”

Masters went from 29 suspensions among 268 students in the 2016-17 school year to zero suspensions among 264 students in the 2017-18 school year.

Ralph Pope, the school security officer, said, “At the end of the day, we learned how to trust each other. At the beginning of this program we had a few nonbelievers who are now believers. With this approach, parents, students and school personnel partnerships grow.”

On Friday, Griffin will be presenting her plan to fellow principals.

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