It takes more than brains to succeed in school and in life.
That’s why freshman and sophomore students at Riverside Brookfield High School and a small group of students at S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield are being taught vital “executive functioning” skills that are a key to success in the classroom and in life.
The Executive Functioning Skills initiative at RB and Gross uses a curriculum developed by Rush Neurobehavioral Center. It focuses on teaching organizational, time management, goal setting and decision making skills to students.
It began at RB three years ago with a pilot group of 45 students but expanded last year to include the entire freshman class. This year all freshman and sophomores are receiving the training.
“The statistics say that executive functioning skills, and measuring them, is a bigger indicator of a student’s success in secondary and post secondary education than is a standardized test score and IQ,” said RB Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Tim Scanlon. “That’s amazing.”
Scanlon and RB social worker Christine Sutton serve as the executive functioning program’s coordinators at RB.
Assignment notebooks, or planners, are a key part of the program at RB and Gross. Students are taught to write down assignments and to keep track of them in notebooks that are specially designed for that purpose. The planning notebooks divide the day into periods. Students are taught to keep all their materials for a class in the same place and are taught to prune their materials.
“We make sure they sort out their materials in a timely fashion so they’re not just piling paper on top of paper,” Scanlon said.
That way students can quickly find what they need.
Teachers of freshmen and sophomores at RB write a daily agenda on the board so everyone is class knows what their assignment is and what the day’s goals are.
The program’s leader is Dr. Georgia Bozeday, the director of educational services at the Rush Neurobehavioral Center. Dr. Bozeday is the mother of RB physics teacher Josh Bozeday.
In September Dr. Bozeday made a presentation to the District 208 school board about the program.
“Time management is very important to executive functioning skills,” she told the school board.
The Rush Neurobehavioral Center has introduced the executive functioning curriculum to about 50 schools Dr. Bozeday said.
The cost to RB is currently about $1,200 a year, said Dr. Bozeday said. RB gets a discount because it is a study project.
Dr. Bozeday emphasized that today’s teenagers are addicted to multitasking and that takes a toll on concentration.
“They believe they can listen to music, text a friend, be on Facebook and do their homework at the same time,” Dr. Bozeday said. “Neurologically they’re overwhelmed and less productive.”
The program encourages students to focus on one task at a time.
The program teaches students to break down long term assignments into little tasks and focuses on prioritizing assignments. It aims to make students responsible for their own work and to get them to plan ahead.
“Kids just don’t seem to be able to regulate themselves as well as they used to,” Dr. Bozeday said. Organizational and time management skills are crucial to success in school she said.
“Mastery of executive functioning skills is a better predictor of success in school than IQ,” Dr. Bozeday said.
It is also crucial to success in the work world.
“There is no better way to prepare kids for the world of work than to have kids master executive functioning skills,” Dr. Bozeday said.
Teachers at RB and Gross receive training from Rush on how to teach the curriculum and implement the program.
At Gross the executive functioning program began in August. Currently it is only being taught to about 30 students in the STAR program who are students that can benefit from additional support.
In its first three months at Gross the program has focused on helping students organize their school assignments and materials.
“At this point I would say it’s helping students with managing the materials,” said S.E. Gross Principal Todd Fitzgerald. “That’s a big part of the curriculum: helping students with organization. It has helped students with managing their materials and being more organized.”
Seventh grade STAR program teacher Ryan Evans says that he has seen positive results already.
“The first three months have been all about organization systems and I have seen a significant increase in my students in that area,” Evans said.
Fitzgerald says that there is a good chance the program will be expanded next year.
“We’ll consider starting with eighth grade next year and at some point having it be an entire school program,” Fitzgerald said.