Staff at Columbian Elementary School have been working behind the scenes on a program to address emotional, family and mental challenges that may be slowing their students down in the classroom.

Staff at Columbian Elementary School have been working behind the scenes on a program to address emotional, family and mental challenges that may be slowing their students down in the classroom.
Now they're getting ready to take this program for a test drive with parents, with the idea that, if it goes well, it could be implemented across the Carthage R-9 School District.
Columbian School hosted the first S.O.A.R, or Students Overcoming Adversity Responsibly, meeting with an invited group of parents on Thursday evening, Jan. 25, at the school.
Columbian Principal Bryan Shallenburger said attendance was good and organizers divided the parents and families into three groups, two of English-speaking families and one of Spanish-speaking families.
The groups heard Powerpoint presentations with tips on how to talk to children and make sure they're having a quality conversation with them, how to find out what's really going on in their children's lives and whether they might need extra support, a list of sources of extra help, basic hygiene tips and routines to help children have a smooth day and be successful at school.
“Our plan is to have two more meetings this semester, one in March and one in May,” Shallenburger said. “And we are going to be communicating with Mercy here in Carthage and see if we can bring in a couple of specialists in different areas. One of those might be suicide prevention, how to recognize some signs and things like that, or other mental health needs that families may run into.”

About S.O.A.R
Shallenburger said the program will help students and parents recognize when they have problems within the home or family, and show them where to reach out to for help if they need it.
“Staff at Columbian have recognized that students are affected by different situations families go through,” Shallenburger said. “Whether it is a loss of a loved one, incarceration, single parent family, mental health concerns or financial difficulties, every family goes through situations where they could use a little more support.
“To help meet these needs, Columbian has created a mental health program called S.OA.R. (Students Overcoming Adversity Responsibly). Many of the staff at Columbian give extra time to 'triage' with students every day to build relationships, problem solve, and practice life skills that enhance social and academic achievement.”
The goal is to deal with these issues so children are ready to pay attention and learn while in school and not distracted by these problems.

Background
Shallenburger said School Counselor Joyce Wilkerson came up with the name, and he, Wilkerson and School Nurse Andrea Huddleston started developing the program last Spring.
At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, Columbian sent a flyer to parents asking what they felt was the greatest need in their families.
“We identified some students and families that we felt seemed like they needed extra support,” Shallenburger said. “Once we identified them, the next step was to figure out what do those needs look like. It's one thing to kind of guess what they need but we wanted to know where the families felt like the needs were greatest.
“We sent out a little flyer to pull in some information from our students and their families to figure out what exactly were their needs. Is the greatest need dealing with bullying, is it finding resources for families to get clothes, shelter or food, is it incarceration of someone in the family, is it loss of a loved one. That really helped guide what our next steps were. As we designed our next steps, we knew all along we wanted to have parents support because we could only do so much in the school system without that.”
Shallenburger said the people who checked a box on that survey saying they were interested in a parents meeting were invited to the first one.
Shallenburger said the school also formed a “triage team,” of 18 administrators, teachers, cooks, custodial workers and other staff, anyone who had direct contact with students, and trained them to recognize a student that might be having a problem and how to help the student cope.
“The triage team was the immediate thing we could implement,” Shallenburger said. “We asked ourselves what could we do in school right now to get started and that was the triage team. We also knew we wanted to expand our outreach to parents, grandparents, other family, and that was the purpose of the flyer.”

Foundation support
Shallenburger said the event couldn't have happened the way it did without the Carthage R-9 Foundation's financial help.
Carthage R-9 Foundation Director Crystal Brown said the Foundation gave Columbian school a $500 grant to pay for the food at these parent meetings.
“We don't know that it will all be used at the first meeting, it may be used at subsequent meetings,” Brown said. “The idea was to get in on the ground floor of an opportunity that, in speaking with (Superintendent) Dr. (Mark) Baker as well, he's interested in implementing maybe across the district.”
Brown said she serves as a substitute teacher usually once a week in the district and she sees how a program like this could be really good for students and for learning in general.
She said many people in the district realize that teaching students coping skills at an earlier age can help them deal with the stresses of the pre-teen and teenage years.
“I think if we address a lot of these things at the elementary level, the hope is that there won't be such a feeling of hopelessness later on,” Brown said. “The hope is, once hormones start kicking in and they start dealing with peer pressure, the normal pressure of high school, becoming a teenager, an adult, this program is really going to meet those challenges head on. Hopefully the students know that if I'm dealing with this, I've got this support system in place and I've got people who can help me, here's how I can deal with this and my parents.”
School Counselor Joyce Wilkerson said holding at least three monthly meetings will allow the program to spend the time needed on the different concerns.
Wilkerson said the biggest concerns are the ones people talk about the most — bullying, suicide, peer pressure, family problems — but families also need help just coping with the stresses of every day life.
“We're in a culture where stress is pretty prevalent for almost every family and there's a lot that we deal with, so we want to help them with things that may seem minor, but they can build,” Wilkerson said. “We want to help with coping skills for kids and parents, stress management, anger management, positive behavior strategies, things that can help kids cope with life and parents cope with life. We want families to know that really, they're not alone in it and hopefully, bringing parents together, they'll feel like they have that support from each other as well as us too.”