Skills for Life

Something remarkable is happening in the Davenport Community Schools.
You see it when you enter the elementary schools, where lobby signs often warmly welcome all. Inviting park benches may line the halls. In many cases, the traditional rows of desks also have been replaced by tables to encourage interaction among students. And the cafeteria? Well, in some buildings, there is a café instead, complete with place settings, music, and decorative accents. Instead of a gym, some schools also sport “health clubs.”

What’s going on here?…

‘Absence of Threat’ Nurtures Achievement
What’s going on is “More than an education.” It’s the creation of better students and better citizens. Research shows that education thrives in an inviting, comfortable environment. Children (and adults!) learn more and learn faster in inviting surroundings with an absence of threat.

Absence of threat means eliminating fear and intimidation. It ends such things as verbal “putdowns” that threaten self-esteem, expression, and personal development. Students then feel more secure about their abilities and are better able to learn and try new things.

The Skills for Life initiative, created for students in the Davenport district, helps ensure a productive learning environment that is absent of threat In 1998, all elementary schools began including seven Skills for Life throughout their curriculum. Recently, intermediate schools began adding eight additional skills. And high schools are in the process of adding three more skills for a total of 18 Skills for Life.

“These skills are the personal and social behaviors that help students perform at their full potential in school, as we prepare them to be the best citizens they can be in life. That’s why we call them Skills for Life,” explains Arleen Lopez, Truman Elementary teacher.

The Riverboat Development Authority has provided a major grant to fund classroom materials and community-wide promotions of the Skills for Life initiative.

The 18 Skills for Life Are:

Starting at the elementary level –

  • Caring – to feel and show concern for others
  • Common sense – to use good judgment
  • Effort – to do one’s best
  • Initiative – to do something, not necessarily for reward, but because it needs to be done
  • Perseverance – to keep at something until one succeeds
  • Responsibility – to take action when needed and be accountable for one’s actions
  • Teamwork – to work together to achieve a goal for the benefit of all concerned

Added at the intermediate school level –

  • Curiosity – to demonstrate a desire to investigate and seek understanding of one’s world
  • Flexibility – to be willing to alter plans when necessary
  • Friendship – to make and keep a friend through mutual trust and caring
  • Integrity – to act according to a sense of what is right and wrong
  • Organization – to plan, arrange, and implement in an orderly way so things are ready to use
  • Patience – to wait calmly for someone or something
  • Problem Solving – to create solutions in difficult situations and everyday problems
  • Sense of Humor – to laugh and be playful without harming others

Added at the high school level –

  • Courage – to act according to one’s beliefs despite fear of adverse consequences
  • Pride – to gain satisfaction from doing one’s personal best
  • Resourcefulness – to respond to challenges and opportunities in innovative and creative ways

The teaching of these skills is woven throughout all school activities – educational and social. As children advance through the grades, they learn additional skills.

“Target talk” reinforces students’ learning of the Skills for Life. For instance, a teacher might say, “Jose, you used the skill of caring when you helped Margaret find her books.”

Skills for Life are also discussed as they appear in stories read by the students. Even the evening news demonstrates such skills – or lack of them – in action. The students take pride in discussing how Skills for Life affect events and their lives.

A Visit to the Principal’s Office
The students’ grasp of Skills for Life is humorously recounted by Ken Krumwiede, principal at Truman Elementary. The incident concerns a second grader and fourth grader who were sent to the principal’s office for quarreling on the playground.

“The second grader, who had paid me a visit the day before, blamed the fourth grader for the misbehavior,” explains Mr. Krumwiede. “Upon hearing the accusation, the fourth grader turned to the second grader and replied, ‘Wait a minute. You aren’t being very responsible. Mr. Krumwiede just had a conversation with you yesterday about being truthful. If you aren’t truthful with him, how can he ever trust you? If he just talked to you yesterday, you weren’t using active listening skills.’

“This is a fourth grader saying these things,” he adds with a grin. “So the kids are definitely picking up what we’re teaching. Do they always practice these skills? No. But that’s what we’re all about as educators.”

The reaction of parents to the Skills for Life Program? Mr. Krumwiede reports, “Some parents were skeptical at first. But as they see their children blossom and excel, they share our enthusiasm and become our strongest supporters. The momentum is growing.”

Teaching the Way the Brain Wants to Be Taught
If Skills for Life are what is taught, a Concept-Based Brain-Compatible (CBBC) curriculum is how the skills are taught. CBBC may be an acronym for a mouthful of words, but it ensures the effectiveness of education in the Davenport Schools.

“Today’s world contains too much information for anyone to absorb. ‘Concept-Based’ means teaching students to find connections between individual bits of information . . . and to use those connections to understand other areas,” explains Dr. Tonya Urbatsch, staff development director.

Students learn to look for patterns. Concepts that help organize information today can be applied to situations that students may encounter in the future.

“Brain-Compatible” simply means using techniques that are known to nurture learning. For example, research indicates that emotion drives attention . . . and attention drives learning and memory retention. So, Davenport teachers minimize distractions and seek ways to make subjects exciting by awakening the senses.

“We try to maintain that fine balance between calm and sensory stimulation that makes learning most effective,” says Sherry Wilson, teacher and curriculum facilitator.

From Earthworms to Evaluating Groceries
Instead of merely talking and reading about subjects, students get the benefit of “real-world” exploration. Take science, for example. Davenport students watch live earthworms wriggle through soil and pick the worms up for examination.

“Hands-on experience is the best way for our students to learn concepts, acquire skills and develop attitudes,” reports Cindy Brockman, Monroe Elementary teacher.

A study trip to a local supermarket provides another example. Students discover how consumers make purchasing decisions based on value. Students learn how to determine relative value by comparing a product’s cost per ounce. “That’s a ‘big- idea’ concept that applies to most purchases made in most stores,” says Sandy Adams, Williams Intermediate teacher.

To Each His Own
The “Brain-Compatible” method realizes that different people learn in different ways. So, students are given the freedom to learn through the methods most effective for them.

“They learn through class discussions, small groups, or individually . . . through reading, talking, or seeing . . . or even through music,” says Cindy Schollaert, Wilson Elementary teacher. “Our curriculum accommodates each student’s strengths to nurture learning.”

Fellow students act as sounding boards to help shape each other’s ideas. Immediate feedback also helps students perfect their social skills.

At the same time, students are encouraged to think for themselves. Teachers circulate throughout the classroom encouraging thinking and challenging ideas by asking questions.

Students Learn More Because “Learning Is More Fun!”
Don’t think that the basics are neglected when teaching Skills for Life through CBBC curriculum. Quite the contrary.

Students will tell you that learning in a brain-compatible environment is fun. And, they soon realize that mastering reading, writing, and mathematics is the way to learn even more. The motivation provided by the CBBC curriculum stimulates progress in all subjects.

When preparing assignments, students are encouraged to be “Complete, Correct, and Comprehensive.” Did he or she complete the assignment? Was it correct? Was it comprehensive – reflecting thought and effort?

Collaboration Instead of Control
Students work as a group with the teacher to form their own procedures – from how to line up to walk to the café for lunch . . . to how study groups function.

Do students abuse the freedom to determine their own rules? Experience has proven to Davenport teachers that collaboration and cooperation, based on mutual respect, are more effective than strict controls.

“We don’t have lists of rewards and punishments,” states Mary Meehan, teacher and curriculum facilitator. All rules are based on Skills for Life. Students obey the rules because they know why the rules exist. “After all, they’ve had a say in establishing them,” she says.

Students learn more. Teachers accomplish more. Taxpayers get more education for their tax dollar. And, when the students graduate, employers hire better employees.

Like the tagline says, Skills for Life is “More than an education” in the Davenport Community Schools.