Early intervention boosts Reamstown kindergartners’ social skills

By on February 8, 2017
Carrie Rupp, Reamstown Elementary School guidance counselor, works with kindergartners to improve their interpersonal one-on-one communication in a technology-heavy world. Photo courtesy Carrie Rupp

Carrie Rupp, Reamstown Elementary School guidance counselor, works with kindergartners to improve their interpersonal one-on-one communication in a technology-heavy world. Photo courtesy Carrie Rupp

Concerned that its youngest students need extra help with social skills, Reamstown Elementary School officials have instituted a behavioral support program that encourages kindergartners to connect with the world around them.

Guidance Counselor Carrie Rupp noticed her half-day students often had trouble looking adults in the eye, a reflection, she said, of a culture increasingly attuned to screens and devices.

She started working with kindergarten teachers Elise Wysocki and Lauren Eddy to provide more comprehensive and routine guidance lessons. During weekly classroom visits, Rupp works with students on everything from eye contact to making introductions to identifying emotions.

“There are so many needs at that grade level,” Rupp said when presenting her program to the Cocalico school board last month. “A lot of my lessons are feelings-based. It’s important for them to know how to recognize the feelings they’re having. That’s the first step to being able to control them.”

She spends about 45 minutes in each of the school’s four kindergarten classes most weeks while students are working on center-based reading or math activities. That gives Rupp a small group to meet with, versus whole-group instruction that she said isn’t ideal for the kindergarten attention span.

Over the last three years, Rupp has developed 14 lessons aligned to state standards in lessons that connect to academic work and artistic expression.

She might be helping students understand facial cues through a book tie-in (“Glad Monster, Sad Monster”) or have them design monsters that reflect their own feelings along with art teacher Michele Swoope.

Eddy said she’d also added more socialization skills to her daily lessons, beginning with a “morning meeting” that encourages personal greetings with fun handshakes and eye contact. In years past, she said, her students might not remember each other’s names until weeks or months into the school year.

“We see many benefits,” she told the board. “Our students have definitely improved their ability to express their feelings.”

Principal Beth Haldeman said the program also helps students build trust in a staff member they can turn to for help now or in the years ahead.

“It’s early intervention,” she said. “We catch them early and train them young.”

Board President Allen Dissinger asked Rupp whether she’d shared her curriculum with the district’s other elementary educators. She said she’d be open to the idea, but noted her work at Reamstown is unique because of her close relationship with the kindergarten staff and their openness to a consistent, coordinated effort.

Rupp must balance the visits with whole-group lessons she’s also required to provide in grades one through four. Those classes typically get four to eight lessons a year, ranging from sportsmanship to test-taking skills.

“I am spending more time in kindergarten,” Rupp said by e-mail after the presentation. “But I feel it’s time well spent as we are building a foundation for their social/emotional future.”

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