California Educator

JUNE 2010

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LEFT: Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association member Aileen Salmaggi works with students. BELOW: Student Kwame Williams exuberantly participates at Edison Language Academy in Santa Monica. students communicate ideas they may be too young to verbalize. The program empowers students to become problem-solvers and of- fers them the opportunity to learn from bad experiences instead of becoming over- whelmed, angry or embittered. When insulted, a youngster might reach Cool tools for resiliency “It’s not fair!” “Everyone is picking on me!” “I’ll never pass this test.” “It’s too much work. I give up!” It’s common for some youngsters to view minor setbacks and disappointments as ca- tastrophes. They may feel overwhelmed, un- able to cope, depressed or anxious. And for those with poor coping skills, it can feel like the end of the world w hen a r eal cr isis strikes home. Some educators in Santa Monica b elieve s chools should help foster resiliency, because w hen c hildren bounce back from adversity, they become stronger human beings both emotionally and academically. Edison Language Acade- my adopted a unique curric- ulum to boost coping skills. Classrooms have special “toolboxes” filled with items to help 14 California Educator | JUNE 2010 into a toolbox for a tube of toothpaste, for ex- ample. This sends a powerful message: Think before talking, because hurtful words are easy to say, but difficult to take back — just as it’s difficult to put toothpaste back in the tube after it’s been squeezed out. If someone needs personal space, he may reach into the tool- box for a bubble, signaling other students to back off; a large inflatable microphone in the toolbox serves as a reminder that tone or volume can help solve problems or make things worse; a maze shows the need to keep trying. Students, especially those in the upper grades, don’t need the actual tool to resolve problems. S ometimes just blurting out “toothpaste” or “bubble” or “microphone” on the playground is enough. The “Cool Tools” program was developed at UCLA’s Corinne A. Seeds University Ele- mentary School, and was designed by safe school specialist Ava de la Sota. The goal is to help youngsters feel empowered, so they won’t fall apart when under stress. They can learn how to “fix” problems one step at a t ime — without feeling overwhelmed — and understand that if they make a mistake, it’s their responsi- bility to fix it. Eventually, say teachers, students will build upon these skills and devel- op into resilient, coping, competent teens and adults. Even if students don’t resolve their prob- lems peacefully, they learn there are better ways to deal with their anger or resentment. A teacher might ask a student who has hit someone, “What should you have done dif- ferently?” And that student can pull out an ice cube tray to show that he should have “chilled” or a shoe to demonstrate that he should have walked away. The student can then roll the “nice dice” and do a correspond- ing number of nice things for the person they’ve wronged. Fourth- and fifth-graders in the Cool Tools Leadership Team at Edison perform skits for other students to demonstrate how the program works. The message from stu- dent leaders has been well received by their peers. Better yet, the program seems to be working. “I once used the maze when I was nervous and scared about homework and a test,” con- fides fifth-grader Daniel Aguilar. “It made me feel better. I knew I had to keep trying.” “It a great way to solve problems instead of having a big discussion,” says teacher Ai- leen Salmaggi, a member of the Santa Moni- ca-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association (SMMCTA). “You can just say ‘bubble’ and that person understands that they should get out of your space.” Salmaggi incorporates resiliency training into her fourth-grade curriculum when the opportunity arises. During a project where students are asked to partner up, for example, Salmaggi passes out kaleidoscopes.

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