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Boy strives to be peer mentor in second year of kindergarten

POST PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - This time around, Mason Haver-Lajoie has far more good days than bad at school. For 5- and 6-year-olds, school can be a challenging new adventure, and not all of them take to it well right out of the gate.

Second-year kindergartner Mason Haver-Lajoie, was such a student — in the past.

"Last year I was bad," Mason says, slouching in his chair. He adds that last year everything about school just seemed harder.

When asked why he seems to be doing better now, he just says, "I changed my mind."

For Mason, "changing his mind," is not to be understated. In his first year at Naas Elementary School, frustration over complex classwork or bothersome social interactions would lead to furniture being hurled around the room.

Now, Mason has been observed trying to help other students.

"Colton kind of gets frustrated," Mason explains. He has tried to help his classmate in recent months by talking with him about "being good and not getting in the teacher's way."

One of the methods Naas teachers and Principal Kimberly Brooks have used to address behavioral issues with student like Mason is behavioral charts. These — and the routine checkins they require — set goals for students aiming to reform their actions.

"That chart has a lot of meaning for him," Brooks explains.

Every day Mason's teacher fills out a chart, which Mason later takes to his end-of-day meeting with the principal. Using emoticons, the teacher shows what type of day Mason has had in pictorial language he can better understand.

On days when the chart is covered in smiley faces, Mason is very excited.

In talking to Brooks, Mason says he might like to work at a restaurant one day.

Brooks asks him what would happen if he acted the way he did last year while working.

"I would get fired," he replies. "I don't want to lose my job."

So, Naas staff are trying to make sure that doesn't happen.

"Staff put a lot of effort into keeping him in his mainstream setting," Brooks says, explaining the concern that arose when the district experienced 13 days without school this year. Mason fared far better than anticipated, though he missed out on the structure school provides him with during that nearly two weeks at home.

"(Mason is) very interested in the world," she adds in an optimistic tone. "We have fairly deep discussions."

This is no small feat for a young child who experiences problems with focusing and attentiveness.

One way Brooks suggests avoiding such behavioral problems is for parents to make a habit of sitting and reading with one's child.

"It gives your child individual attention," she explains. "(It) shows that reading is important."

She also recommends getting your child acquainted with the school they will be attending beforehand. At Naas Elementary, the Kindergarten Roundup program for new students is Thursday, April 6.

Though next year the school hopes Mason will have advanced into the first grade, it's possible he'll still be eager to help any student feeling uncomfortable with his or her new environment with some encouraging words.

"Breathe in and breathe out," he says.

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