Elkhorn program earning high grades
For 20 minutes each weekday, 48 groups of about 12 students meet with a teacher or a member of the school staff to talk about academics and life skills. They do group activities, write journals and chat.
The Pops groups started with the topic of responsibility in September. They have moved on to respect.
"We get to talk about how to make better choices and achieve our goals," said 11-year-old Emma Wedige, a sixth-grader in the Pops group of math teacher Michael Storlie.
On Friday, Storlie's group sat in a circle and played a story-telling game. Each of the 12 students said a few words about Pops, completing each other's sentences and telling the story of the program.
The story started with how Pops, which stands for power of positive students, has helped them make healthy choices, voice their opinions and agree to disagree. Until a student turned the story to an alien from outer space crashing through the window and demanding the students hand over their food supplies.
The group burst into laughter as the story got weirder.
"The kids are excited to come to class," Storlie said after the exercise. "It's a relaxed environment for them."
The program has been two years in the making and is the brainchild of a group of Elkhorn Middle School educators who wanted every student to regularly connect to at least one adult.
Better communication leads to accountability resulting in higher scores, fewer behavioral problems and more participation in the classroom, Principal John Gendron said.
"It has surpassed any of our expectations," Gendron said.
The principal, who also leads a Pops group, said group leaders look into students' grades and check if they are completing assignments on time.
Students are getting better at communicating problems from outside the classroom and addressing small instances before they become bigger issues, he said.
"We're getting to know our kids better," Gendron said. "They're talking about how they're enjoying it. I think that helps parents continue that conversation that is sometimes hard to have."
Gendron said leaders of the Pops groups are divided into six groups that meet weekly to discuss their students.
"It's about building relationships," Storlie said.
Pops groups continue to meek weekly until the end of the year, when students are assigned to different groups.
"It's our job to help kids navigate, work through those issues," Gendron said. "This is probably one of the best things I've been involved with in my career.
"It's the highlight of my day."