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Conference visit is tribute to CMSD's Humanware program

CMSD NEWS BUREAU
5/12/2014 

Visitors from 10 countries will come to Cleveland this week to see how CMSD has helped students manage their emotions, sharpen their attention and focus on education in the wake of shootings at a downtown high school seven years ago.

More than 100 people are expected to gather Thursday and Friday at the Marriott at Key Center for an annual conference sponsored by PATHS Education Worldwide. The nonprofit corporation trains teachers in the PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) curriculum, used by CMSD in prekindergarten through fifth grade to help children resolve problems without resorting to aggression.

The annual conference alternates between the United States and Europe. The selection of Cleveland as this year’s site is a tribute to measures taken by the District after the shootings at SuccessTech Academy in 2007. A student who had been suspended returned to the downtown high school with a gun and wounded two teachers and two fellow students before killing himself.

District officials responded to the tragedy by placing metal detectors and security guards in all schools, but they also decided to emphasize “social and emotional learning.”
 
The global Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning defines SEL as a process by which adults and children learn to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions.

The CMSD 'Humanware' program
 
The Humanware program implemented by the District goes well beyond PATHS. It includes student support teams that match students with the academic and emotional help they need, bullying-prevention programs, school-based mental health services and regular class meetings where ninth-graders share concerns.

In-school suspension has been replaced by “planning centers,” where students complete academic assignments while also receiving guidance. The planning centers have also drawn national attention, as representatives from a school district from New Mexico most recently visited CMSD schools to see the centers in action.
 
And a Rapid Response Team, formed years before the SuccessTech shootings, dispatches psychologists, counselors and nurses to address about 600 potential problems reported each year to a crisis hotline.

The comprehensive strategy appears to be having an impact. Serious security incidents are down sharply, and “conditions for learning” surveys, administered three times a year in second through 12th grades, show students generally feel safer and more comfortable in their schools.

“It’s starting to move,” said Denine Goolsby, executive director of the Humanware program. “We are integrating social-emotional competencies into the daily routines in our district.”

Humanware begins with PATHS, which teaches self-control and positive relationships in 20-minute lessons conducted two days a week.

The curriculum, created more than 30 years ago, is often associated with its iconic central character, Twiggle the Turtle, who retreats into a shell and calms down instead of lashing out. In the curriculum’s upper grades, the image of a stoplight reminds students to halt until they feel under control.

Bill Stencil, a psychologist and a Humanware content expert, hears references to PATHS as “the warm and fuzzy stuff,” but he said the class conveys important messages.

“It should be very structured,” said Stencil, who describes PATHS as the cornerstone of Humanware. “You stay on point. You build classroom rules -- that should be the first lesson. To me, it’s not all warm and fuzzy, it’s about respect.”

Others say PATHS helps students learn self-discipline and better attend to learning. An independent evaluation by the Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes for Research found improvements in students’ social competence and attention from fall to spring during the two years of study and determined that these improvements were associated with the degree to which teachers implemented PATHS.

PATHS Education Worldwide is preparing to turn over training in the curriculum to the District. Six CMSD educators who will serve as trainers recently met with PATHS Chief Executive Officer Dorothy Morelli over two days at the Jane Addams Business Careers Center.

Staff reaction to PATHS program
 
The CMSD staff raved about the benefits of PATHS, saying children embrace the program.

Raquel White, who teaches a split first- and second-grade at Hannah Gibbons PreK-8 School in the Collinwood neighborhood, is a skeptic turned staunch advocate.

She said students are elated when randomly chosen as the PATHS Kid of the Day. The winner dons a lanyard, bracelet or other distinctive accessory and receives compliments from classmates and the teacher. White also gives the student a task like operating the electronic Smartboard or leading a phonics lesson.

“They lose their minds if we don’t get to the compliments every day,” she said. “They work hard to make sure the other children and I have something nice to say.”

Morelli, who is based in Tennessee, recalls that Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon, then the chief academic officer, didn’t want to dabble in PATHS as pilot. Instead he declared, “We’re in” and implemented the curriculum across the District, starting in 2009.

CMSD selected PATHS after researching options and their effectiveness. The District stuck with the program through layoffs that disrupted training, and that perseverance is one reason why the city will host the conference.

“Cleveland deserves this,” said Morelli, who was wearing a turtle brooch on her lapel during the interview. “They’ve worked to get to where they are. They’ve put in the time. They’ve put in the effort. They deserve this recognition.” 
 
The conference will bring together teachers, coordinators, researchers, administrators and trainers to share ideas and innovations.

Participants will hear from Cleveland representatives regarding their experience with PATHS, and some will arrive a day early to visit the planning centers at Clark and Memorial elementary schools. PATHS has designated Clark and Memorial as “model schools” for their implementation of the curriculum.

After the SuccessTech shootings, CMSD brought in the American Institutes for Research to survey the climate in the schools. The behavioral and social science researchers recommended the sweeping emphasis on social and emotional learning.

AIR Vice President David Osher, a frequent visitor to Cleveland, noted that the District administration and Cleveland Teachers Union jointly supported Humanware.

He lauded CMSD for confronting an important issue, taking an innovative approach and, through PATHS, linking behavior and academics. He said the schools built on PATHS by incorporating its language in the planning centers and bullying-prevention programs.

“This was not a stand-alone,” he said. “It was done in an integrated way.”

AIR began the student surveys that are still taken at the beginning, middle and end of every school year to evaluate each building’s conditions for learning -- an umbrella for academic rigor, safety and levels of respect support. Adults in the schools will soon start participating in “conditions for teaching” surveys.

Support for students, which once varied from school to school, is now more uniform, Osher said. And while the climate is mixed, Osher said that “kids are feeling much safer overall” and that the District is “a much healthier place.”

“Cleveland didn’t settle for symbols” in its response to problems in schools, Osher said. “It really has been slowly building capacity to do stuff differently. I think things are at the point where it is poised to go to a different level.”



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