Farmin-Stidwell group tackles litter problem

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Five Farmin-Stidwell Elementary students were honored with certificates of recognition by Lake Pend Oreille School District officials during Tuesday’s board meeting. From lower left are students Breecyn Morton, Myelle Jensen, Knox Dean, Kael Olson and McCoy Jensen with their principal Erik Olson. From top left are district trustees Lonnie Williams, Geraldine Lewis, Purley Decker, Cary Kelly and Superintendent Shawn Woodward. (Photo by MARY MALONE)

SANDPOINT — Two Farmin-Stidwell Elementary students realized there was a problem with garbage on their playground, and subsequently made up flyers, a video, and held a meeting to recruit classmates to help with the problem by grabbing buckets and gloves to pick up the trash.

“I am so pleased that Knox and Kael took it upon themselves and took initiative, and found that there was a problem at our school with trash on the playground,” Farmin-Stidwell Principal Erik Olson said. “Obviously Farmin-Stidwell’s playground is used by many different organizations — soccer, etc. — but also our kids, too.”

They recognized the need, Olson said, and decided they were going to do something about it.

The two youngsters, Kael Olson and Knox Dean, along with three of their classmates — McCoy Jensen, Myelle Jensen and Breecyn Morton — were each awarded a certificate of recognition on Tuesday from Lake Pend Oreille School District trustees. First, however, Erik Olson continued the string of presentations by principals during recent board meetings. The purpose of the presentations is for school officials to answer two questions — what makes your school unique, and what is the school doing different this year.

The goals Olson said he and his staff had as they entered the 2018-2019 school year focused on two things — relationships and results — academically, as well as socially and emotionally.

To answer the first question, Olson polled the staff at Farmin-Stidwell, with responses such as that there is a diverse group of learners at Farmin-Stidwell, kids learn in all kinds of ways, there is a spirited collaborative family of professionals taking care of the students and each other, a strong focus on connecting and building relationships with students — working as a team.

“We understand rather than judge,” Olson read from the responses. “So again, building relationships, focusing on results.”

Olson polled the kids as well, who said the school is a family, they are all part of the “wolf pack,” as well as kind-hearted, loving, awesome and good with competition. They also said the “teachers are nice” and “they give us the gift of learning.”

For Olson, though, what “really” sets the school apart is the 21st Century Community Learning Center, which was implemented this year after the district was awarded a five-year grant for the program at Farmin-Stidwell and Kootenai elementaries. The after-school program helps kids grow their self-esteem, said one of the parents in the audience of Tuesday’s meeting. She said she believes it has to do with the “confident, kind, helpful teachers.” They also get extra reinforcement with reading, she said, as well as help with homework, and get to enjoy STEM activities and music.

While Myelle said she couldn’t decide on any one part of the program that she liked, because she likes it all, McCoy and Breecyn said they like the homework and art blocks. Their leadership in the afterschool program is why the trio was chosen to be recognized Tuesday along with Knox and Kael, Olson said.

In answer to the second question, Olson said the school is embarking on a couple of book studies. The first book is titled, “Better Than Carrots or Sticks,” which he said outlines the idea of restorative practices for positive classroom management. Farmin-Stidwell is a Positive Behavior Intervention Support school, where kids are rewarded for their behavior.

“We are taking a different tact,” Olson said. “We’re not going to reward kids for their behavior any more. We are going to embark on this restorative practice.”

According to the research, Olson said, when educators empower kids to address and correct misbehavior among themselves, positive results are longer lasting than the rewards.

“We always have the mindset of if what we are doing isn’t working, we are going to try something else, so we are trying this,” Olson said, adding that they just started after the Christmas break. “We will see how it goes.”

The school has also implemented a “student connection board,” with the idea that if you make a true connection with students, they will move mountains for you, Olson said. On the board is 500 cards with all the kids, and each staff member is tasked with ensuring they have a connection with a student, so each student has a name by their card.

“These kids also deserve adult attention, so that is what this board is striving to do, so that these kids also feel valued in their school,” Olson said.

Another book study at the school focuses on establishing a professional learning culture at Farmin-Stidwell. PLC focuses on four “critical” questions: What do we want students to learn? How do we know they are learning it? What are we going to do if they aren’t learning it? and What are we going to do if they already know it? The leadership team is about five chapters into the book, Olson said, and continues to find ways to answer those four questions.

Finally, Olson said there is a “big” focus on K-3 literacy with a “push in” philosophy, taking all of the support staff and “pushing them into the classroom.” According to the Idaho progress indicator, or ISIP, results from September to December showed a 14.25 percent increase.

“If we continue with that trajectory ... we will have 80 percent of our kids, K-3, performing at grade level as indicated by the Idaho reading indicator,” Olson said. “... We are going to go well beyond what I projected our goal to be, so I am super pleased with that.”

Mary Malone can be reached by email at and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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