MANCHESTER, Conn. (AP) - A new superhero has taken up residence in some elementary school classrooms here under a pilot program to help students recognize and combat behavior problems.
The character called “Superflex” does battle with various villains known as “Unthinkables,” helping students regulate behavior and become strong social problem-solvers, school officials say of the cartoon characters now used in a handful of elementary grades throughout the district.
School Superintendent Matthew Geary, who hopes to roll the program out to all elementary classrooms next year, said that when he was a student he often fell victim to Rockbrain_a Superflex arch-villain who makes people get stuck on one idea.
Other Unthinkables include Glassman, who creates huge emotional reactions; Space Invader, who makes children invade the personal space of others; Topic Twistermeister, a tornado that causes students to veer off subject, and Mean Jean, who makes people act mean and bossy.
The project is part of the culture-and-climate portion of the district’s improvement plan.
It’s hoped that modifying negative behavior can result in better test scores while also teaching children interpersonal skills to use throughout their lives, he said.
According to district numbers, there were 180 out-of-school suspensions and 155 in-school suspensions of elementary-aged students in 2012-13.
That number is too high, school officials said, who note that removing a child from the classroom doesn’t help them learn to cope or address low test scores.
At Verplanck Elementary School, there are three classrooms testing Superflex’s abilities, with the hope that more will meet and employ the superhero’s powers next year, Principal Nicholas Jones said.
Ryan Nunes, a Verplanck second-grade teacher, says Superflex was introduced to his class in February. So far, he’s seen a marked improvement.
Children need to feel comfortable and safe in their surroundings in order to succeed academically, he said. But an outburst from one student who doesn’t recognize or know how to deal with frustration can “wreak havoc” for everyone.
“There are a wide range of behaviors that teachers and school staff in different school districts deal with,” Nunes said, noting that school today is different than for previous generations.
“It’s our responsibility to change with the times and offer new ways to deal with these behaviors so that children can succeed inside the classroom.”
And that’s where Superflex comes in, he said.
The program gives students tools and strategies to face various daily social challenges, much like Batman outwits Joker, or Superman outsmarts Lex Luthor.
Students are “superheroes in training” as the program teaches them how to be more flexible in their thinking and adapt to the world around them, using their brain powers to shift and change at any time, he said.
Parents and peers can use the tool to increase awareness of their own behaviors, knowledge of social expectations, and how to modify reactions in different settings, he said.
“In a little over a month of implementing this program in my classroom, students are now more likely to show expected behaviors without any reminders,” he told members of the school board last week. “They know the behavior I expect from them, which increases student learning and makes the learning process much smoother.”
In the upper grades, however, “they don’t buy in as much to the superhero aspect as the younger ones do, but they totally get the Unthinkables aspect,” fifth-grade teacher Chelsea Gordon said.
“It takes the blame off of them_they are no longer the bad person and instead, someone is attacking them, and it gives them wonderful strategies to deal with” their reactions, Gordon said of her students.
Posters of the characters adorn the walls, and students all have flashcards in their desks to pull out and review whenever “they’re under attack,” she said.
“We’ve been doing it for a couple of months now, and it’s made a huge difference in my classroom, which is a positive, especially with students who need that extra push,” she said
Information from: Journal Inquirer, https://www.journalinquirer.com
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