School program teaches, promotes good behavior in class

  • John Powers Center teachers Angel O'Rourke, second from left, and Sharon Nolen, right, encourage students as they play a game at the Vernon Hills' SEDOL school for deaf and hard of hearing students.

      John Powers Center teachers Angel O'Rourke, second from left, and Sharon Nolen, right, encourage students as they play a game at the Vernon Hills' SEDOL school for deaf and hard of hearing students. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Published1/22/2008 12:10 AM

"I find life an exciting business, and most exciting when it is lived for others," said Helen Keller, the renown deaf and blind American author, activist and lecturer.

Her quote hangs proudly on a plaque signifying the dedication of the John Powers Center in Vernon Hills on June 1, 1980, by the member school districts to the hearing impaired children of Lake County.


Powers is one of a number of Special Education District of Lake County schools which provides instructional and integrated settings for students with special needs. Their unique specialization lies in assisting deaf or hard of hearing students aged pre-school through junior high to better assimilate with their learning environments. Recently, the school kicked off a new Positive Behavior Support Program in conjunction with the Illinois Resource Service Center to help encourage and promote positive interaction among the students.

The program, titled "Hands Working Together," was created with the deaf and signing student body in mind and focuses on three main tenets that encourage respect, responsibility and safety.

"It's a positive approach to behavior," said Principal Terri Nilson-Bugella. "We are trying to reinforce these concepts to teach kids how they are supposed to act instead of punishing them for what they did wrong."

Students will have lessons on specific behaviors in these areas, and will receive recognition for demonstrating appropriate conduct. For every tenet exhibited, children will earn a ticket. When they've earned five such tickets, they will literally be given a "hand" in the form of a colorful cut out which will be placed on the walls of the school along with those of others in the spirit of building a visible path of working together to earn different things as a team. The first goal they are looking to achieve is a school-wide pizza party.

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"We are going to be teaching what behavior we expect in the classroom and the playground and actually showing what that good behavior looks like instead of just always punishing (the kids) for the negative behavior," said Nilson-Bugella, noting that the reason for the initiation of the program is not as a response to existing poor behavioral issues. Rather, she said, it is a proactive approach to creating a positive atmosphere.

The Positive Behavior Support Program is a national program originally created as a school-wide curriculum for mainstream students, not a special education initiative. To date, it has been instituted throughout 700 schools within Illinois making us the country leader.

"We provided the funding via a grant for this opportunity for the school," said Illinois Resource Service Center Director Cheri L. Sinnott. "We're going to fund it for this year and provide support for the next couple of years until the school is able to manage on its own."

Cristian Maynez, 10, from Round Lake Beach is hard-of-hearing but that doesn't deter the energetic 10-year-old who attends Powers and simultaneously mainstreams with Townline where he attends math and social studies classes. Born in Mexico, Maynez says it's fun to learn and was one of the first to receive tickets for his respectful behavior.


According to Nilson-Bugella, each child is given an individualized education plan and programs are tailored to their specific needs. Powers staff of ten educators currently supports approximately 85 students.

As a SEDOL school, Powers mainstreams with Townline Elementary in Vernon Hills and Middle School North in Hawthorn Woods offering this self-contained deaf and hard of hearing program.

"A lot of times kids come to us and they don't have a lot of language. They don't know what things are called because they are completely deaf," said Nilson-Bugella. As that relates to the relatively sophisticated tenets of the PBSP, "A lot of our younger kids might not initially understand those three concepts but we hope that through repetition they will understand those things," she said.

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