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Her students are learning respect and responsibility

January 05, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a monthly series highlighting excellent educators in Washington County elementary schools. Next month: Fountain Rock Elementary.




pepperb@herald-mail.com

When children fight, when they yell at their teacher or when they lose their temper, Amy Valentine is there to calm them down, talk to them and sometimes just be their friend.

Valentine, who is Fountaindale School for the Arts and Academic Excellence's behavior resource teacher, works closely with about 10 children through the school's Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports program, which aims to help children to conduct themselves mildly in school.

When they show respect or responsibility, the school's children may earn "bird bucks," which can be saved to buy lamps, toys or any of the approximately 50 stuffed animals lining Valentine's office shelf.

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The children with whom Valentine works earn another type of reward when they behave well. Children come to her office for about 30 minutes if their teacher says they've been good. The two of them talk, work on crafts or finish errands together within the school, but during that time Valentine takes the opportunity to help them sort through their issues, which a lot of times are not noticeable in class.

Counseling is not new for Valentine, who received her bachelor's degree in psychology from Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, in 1996, and went on to work for the Washington County Department of Social Services as a school liaison.

She worked in a similar capacity helping parents and children sort through issues with attendance or behavior in school.

While there, Valentine, 28, attended Loyola College and received her master's degree in clinical psychology. She went on to become a therapist for adolescents who were placed in a Pennsylvania boot camp.

Although Valentine's children at Fountaindale are not as out of order as the teenagers she worked with at the boot camp, she said she sees the potential for some children to develop those bad habits, which is why she tries to help them understand their problems now.

"They all have good in them and I really do believe that. They all need compassion and attention from people who care," she said.

After working at the boot camp for more than a year, Valentine decided to get her master's of arts degree in teaching from Frostburg State University's Hagerstown campus so she could get back to working with children in schools.

She taught middle school math at Antietam Academy for two years before landing the job at Fountaindale, which she said is her ideal job.

"I like counseling and I like working with kids," she said.

With the children who are in trouble, she said, it's more of an ongoing problem, which usually stems from their home life or from a lack of attention.

"You know that if they don't get it under control that you can hurt them in the future," she said.

Sometimes she can't get the children to tell her what's bothering them, she said, and when that happens, they just talk about the basics and hopefully the children will be more prone to spill their worries.

"Some of the little children we have have lived through a lot more than any of us ever will," she said.

Valentine might find out that the reason a student tore his homework up in front of a teacher is related to something that happened earlier at the bus stop or at home.

"I try to help them to understand how their behavior affects them and affects other people," she said.

Children have to learn to respect each other, she said, but better yet, to respect themselves.

"A kid who respects themselves seems happy, they're less angry and they're more responsible," she said.

Ultimately, children have to realize that the choices they make are their own, she said.

"I can do everything I can to give them coping skills," she said. "But in the end, I can't make their choices for them."

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