GPS reaches out to future students

From left, Lindsey Voegele, Deb Siemers and Teresa Berube stand after presenting Positive Behavior Support to the Gretna Optimist Club, which promotes healthy social and emotional development in children from birth to age 5.

Gretna Public Schools wants to help all incoming kindergartners before they even enter a school building.

Despite only reaching a third of incoming students through its preschool program, GPS began a program with local childcare providers and the Gretna Children's Library to reach as many children as possible.

“This is great at helping all the kids,” said Teresa Berube, early childhood special educator at Gretna Elementary School.

The program, called Positive Behavior Support, helps children from birth to age 5 learn positive social and emotional behavior, learning such things as how to negotiate, handle being told “no” or even deal with complex issues such as parental divorce.

So far the program has shown tremendous success, Berube said.

She gave the example of one student asking another for a toy he was playing with. Through the program, Berube said, the two were able to work out a way to share the toy, whether through turns or setting up a timer for the next student to have the toy.

“It doesn't take any teacher assistance to work through that problem,” she said.

Berube said that these manners, which her classroom calls “monkey manners,” has stuck with students as parents have reported hearing their older students repeat the phrase.

“It becomes so ingrained in them – what is appropriate and what is not appropriate behavior – that they keep it for years after,” she said. “That is the goal.”

To reach even more incoming students, Berube said she and other staff went through extensive training in the program and then presented it to childcare providers within the school district boundaries.

“The more kids we can get to, the better their negotiating skills and the easier for them to learn,” Berube said.

She said that currently the preschool program reaches about 90 children, whereas the typical incoming kindergarten class is anywhere from 300 to 350 students.

“Being able to reach more kids benefits Gretna as a whole,” she said.

To further assist teaching PBS to kids, Berube said GPS has teamed with the Gretna Optimist Club and the Gretna Children's Library to provide educational material to the local childcare providers.

“There is a whole list of books about social and emotional development,” she said.

The Optimists have assisted in purchasing 30 books through a soup supper, and GPS staff have created small lesson plans to accompany the books, along with other activities and exercises, and bundled them together in bags.

“Any Gretna (childcare) provider within the district's boundaries can check these out,” Berube said.

Children's Librarian Jean Slowinski said that childcare providers do not require a library card to check the bags out as a separate system has been created entirely for PBS.

While the program began last October, Slowinski said that there are already providers who regularly check out the bags.

“The ones that have heard about it have been checking them out,” Slowinski said.

She said she feels that more will use the program as grows in popularity. As for the providers who do use the program, they use it often.

“The ones that have used them, have used them more than once,” she said.

Berube said that GPS and the Optimists aim to purchase even more books through another soup supper.

The next fundraiser takes place on Feb. 1 inside Gretna High School from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. during GHS varisty and junior varsity boys and girls basketball games against Waverly.

Food prices vary from 50 cents for a bag chips to a $5 adult meal, which includes soup, a sandwich, chips, drink and a cinnamon roll.

Berube said all the proceeds will be used purchase more books.

“Our program is truly happy for the support,” she said.

She said that the support from the Optimist, library and the community overall has been a blessing, adding that as a parent of Gretna students she especially appreciates such programs becoming available.

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