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'Above the line': Willmar elementary students know what's expected of them

First-grader Allison Rohloff, left, receives a yellow ticket from Principal Scott Hisken to thank her for making it a great day at Kennedy Elementary. She was following the rules by walking quietly in the halls. Also pictured is Dean of Students Linda Bahe. (Tribune photo by Linda Vanderwerf)1 / 2
Kennedy Elementary Dean of Students Linda Bahe, left, presents a yellow ticket to fifth-grader Cassie Hanson for helping pick up safety equipment on the playground each day. The tickets can be used in drawings for prizes or special activities. (Tribune photo by Linda Vanderwerf)2 / 2

WILLMAR -- Two fingers against her lips and the other hand in the air, first-grader Allison Rohloff walked quietly down the hall with her class on the way to the Kennedy Elementary School cafeteria for lunch,

Several other students made the same motion.

When Principal Scott Hisken stopped Allison to praise her, he asked what made her walk that way. "I made that choice by myself," she said.

Allison and the others exemplified the "Above the Line All the Time" character and behavior education program in Willmar's elementary schools.

Expectations for the program are clear. Teachers talk about them in class, and the rules are posted on brightly colored signs throughout the buildings.

The messages of proper hallway, cafeteria or classroom behavior are in words and pictures, so they will be clear to all students in the K-5 schools, even young non-readers.

"Everything is by design," Hisken said.

The clear expectations and positive recognition have made the program successful, Bahe said.

Hisken gave Allison a yellow ticket about the size of a business card for following the rules about being quiet in the halls. Any adult in the school who sees good behavior can hand out a ticket, he said.

Cassie Hanson, a fifth-grader, received a ticket from Dean of Students Linda Bahe for helping to pick up the cones on the playground after recess. She and her friend do that nearly every day, she said.

Students who receive a ticket become part of a weekly drawing in the school. Students whose names are drawn can choose small prizes. They also can participate in fun activities, like going outdoors to blow bubbles.

"It's been very positive," said Nathan Cox, dean of students at Roosevelt Elementary. "It's given us a common language to communicate with the kids and parents across grade levels and in regards to all sorts of behaviors."

Staff members at the two schools have worked together to implement a comprehensive program, Cox said. The staff wears T-shirts once a week as a visual reminder.

The drivers for the two bus companies serving the district use the language of the program, too, Bahe said.

When any adult in the schools sees a student misbehave, they ask, "Is that above the line, or below the line?"

Students are given a choice of fixing the behavior or accepting a consequence. "Most want to fix it," Bahe said.

Each of those situations is a learning experience for the children, she added.

Bahe said the program has been a help in the schools' ongoing efforts to do away with bullying. "Kids step up and take a stand."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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