Kindergarten teacher Lindsey Kealey’s classroom management plan focused on teaching young students to make responsible choices will find a permanent home in several classrooms in Bend, La Pine and beyond.

Kealey developed the program four years ago while working on her master’s degree. Now, she’s leaving her full-time kindergarten teaching job to coach teachers around Central Oregon — and two educators in foreign countries — as her program will be fully implemented in early-elementary classes at three Bend and La Pine schools this fall, as well as a few classrooms in a fourth elementary and a preschool.

“It’s very exciting, and this whole year I’ve learned so much from the other teachers,” Kealey said. “With their input and feedback, I’ve been able to make (the program) a lot better.”

PAWsitive Choices — the animal-inspired name comes from the program’s cartoon animal visual aids — focuses on helping young students learn social-emotional skills such as self-awareness, self-management and collaborative problem solving. The goal of the program is to manage classroom behavior and keep students motivated without using punishments or rewards. Students are encouraged to fill out problem-solving sheets during a conflict and write apology letters, which helps students learn how to resolve their own disputes and gives them autonomy.

Kealey used her program in her kindergarten class at Silver Rail Elementary in Bend for the past three years. Since then, other local teachers have been intrigued.

“I haven’t had to market this, because I’ve had teachers come to me,” she said. “It’s spread by word-of-mouth.”

Four schools have already pledged to fully train staff in certain grades on Kealey’s program: La Pine and Rosland elementary schools will use the program for all kindergarten and first grade classes; Buckingham will take it a step further, having PAWsitive Choices used in all classroom grades K-2; and Footprints Preschool in La Pine, which is operated by the High Desert Education Service District, will also begin using Kealey’s program.

Silver Rail will partly join in by having certain third grade and kindergarten classrooms using the program.

According to Kealey, funding to use her program will come from nonprofits such as United Way and Traces, the latter of which helps local students who’ve dealt with trauma. The cost of running the program at these schools was not immediately available.

Buckingham Principal Kevin Milner said five teachers in his school tested PAWsitive Choices this past school year, and they were enthusiastic about expanding it to more classes. Milner said 12 classrooms will use the program, and those teachers will be trained alongside Buckingham’s administrators, physical education and music teachers in August.

One thing that made PAWsitive Choices stand out to Milner compared to other classroom management programs is that students seemed to take it seriously.

“Kids were actually applying it, and that made a big difference for us,” he said. “They would have something that happened at recess, and we heard them using the strategies with one another, unlike other programs we’ve used.”

However, Kealey’s program will not be adopted districtwide. Bend-La Pine Schools Assistant Superintendent Lora Nordquist said teachers can use the program if they choose, but the school district does not make any social-emotional learning curriculum mandatory.

Two local educators will also be taking Kealey’s program outside of U.S. borders. Elk Meadow Elementary teacher Leslie Carrol will use the program in Thailand, while Adam Carter, who mentors teachers around Bend-La Pine, will teach using PAWsitive Choices in Brazil.

Carter said he was impressed by Kealey’s program when he mentored her during her first two years of teaching. The school he’ll work at in Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, teaches students in English, but half of the kids are Brazilian natives whose first language is Portuguese.

“One of the things that makes PAWsitive Choices exemplary are the pictures and visuals,” Carter said. “The more visuals and cues, the easier it is to condition kids into any situation.”

Kealey also plans to expand her program outside classrooms altogether. She’s writing a PAWsitive Choices book for parents to use in the home, which she said was inspired by parents telling her their kids used Kealey’s problem-solving strategies with their siblings.

She’s also planning on adapting her curriculum for Spanish-speaking educators — the program already has materials for Spanish-speaking students — and for older elementary students.

Although Kealey said she’ll miss having her own classroom, she’s excited to interact with and help students around the region.

“It’ll be like I have a really, really big class,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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