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Editorial: Getting to root of behavioral issues in elementary school students

For the past few years, Carroll County Public Schools has asked for additional funding in its budget to repurpose several teaching positions to behavioral specialists. But despite the county’s overall funding for public schools increasing, shortfalls in meeting the Board of Education’s total funding request have left those positions from becoming a reality.

The need for these behavioral specialists has been fueled by anecdotal evidence, according to CCPS officials, that behavioral problems are on the rise, particularly at the early elementary school level.

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Some minor behavioral issues, such as students not following directions from teachers or being unable to stay in their seats are to be expected at the early elementary school level. But Dana Falls, the director of student services for the school system, told us that the reported problems go beyond that — with teachers expressing concerns over more overt, aggressive behaviors in younger students.

Making sure the school system is addressing these behaviors in the most appropriate way is the goal behind a recently developed task force to examine these recent trends in elementary schools. Despite calls from Board of Education members to add behavioral specialists, it is possible that the issues cropping up can be addressed in a different manner.

The task force is being asked to investigate the root causes of the issues. Based the task force’s findings, school system staff and board members should be better equipped to identify more precisely what support is needed, be it behavioral specialists, classroom assistants, mental health counselors for youth or something else.

Hopefully, the task force will also come back with more hard data, rather than anecdotal evidence, to make the case for any additional staffing or programs, which should help the BOE and CCPS staff advocate for any necessary funding for additional resources.

It’s also possible that some of the problems can be addressed without additional positions. For example, there are studies that suggest additional recess time may not only help improve behavior in young students, but will also help them be better learners.

Even adults need a “brain break” from time to time — think about how easy it is to get distracted once a work meeting exceeds more than 60 minutes — and recess is an opportunity to students to work on social skills that tend to improve behavior and interactions with one another. Additional recess also gives students more physical activity daily and helps them burn off pent-up energy so they can concentrate more on school work once they return to the classroom.

That’s something that could be addressed in scheduling without requiring more resources and funding.

Unfortunately, we suspect many of the issues begin outside the walls of CCPS, although they may be exacerbated in a classroom, where the structure, rules and personalities differ from those they experience at home. Those may be more difficult to address with any amount of additional staff, funding or other resources.

Nevertheless, we think the school system is being wise to look into the issue further and try to identify the best way to support these students. We look forward to seeing what the task force comes up with.

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