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'SmartEmotions' teaches students to control anger

February 15, 2001

'SmartEmotions' teaches students to control anger



Anger is at the root of a lot of discipline problems, says Michael Shockey, principal at South Hagerstown High School.

The school has a program to help some students deal with anger.

Stephen Green, a licensed professional counselor, and Patti McTaggart, South High guidance counselor, work with students whose anger has gotten them in trouble.

The format is "Empowered Teens," part of the "SmartEmotions" program developed by Green and implemented in four Maryland county school systems.

It is designed to teach students to control their emotions - especially anger. "Smart emotions lead to smart choices," Green says.

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American society clearly is more angry and more violent, Green says. Emotions kick in before thoughts, according to Green. The goal of the program is to teach skill-based emotional control.

Two freshmen who have "graduated" from the program agreed to share some of their experiences without being identified.

One, a 15-year-old girl, came to the program because she had been in a couple of fights.

Another freshman girl, 14, also was in the program because of fighting. She demonstrated a technique for controlling her anger, including stopping, deep breathing, and saying "I'm in control."

"Who's inside your head?" Green asks when she relates an anger-producing situation with another student.

"Power is internal," he says, reminding her that she can be in control of the situation.

What causes their anger?

"Hurt causes anger," Green says.

The girls talked matter-of-factly talk about some of the hurts they've experienced - being in foster care, parents' divorces.

The 15-year-old thinks the program has helped her. Her grades have improved, and she's academically eligible for school sports. "I'm not as down on myself," she says.

Three of seven students enrolled in the group at South High completed the program. Those numbers may not be great, but McTaggart feels good about helping three students.

"A lot of times we're taking a reactive rather than proactive approach," says McTaggart, who has a caseload of 292 freshmen.

The "Empowered Teens" program at South High takes anger out of the punishment mode, Shockey says. It's giving students tools for dealing with emotions and helping them make better choices. The goal is to get them to think beyond anger and be successful in school and life.

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