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Norwalk Aide Who Balances Behavior Might Be Cut

Even though kids get sent to Mr. Harris' office for disruptive behavior, he's still a popular and much-loved figure at Fox Run Elementary School .  Lester Harris’ official title is Intervention Aide but he really is more of a friend, motivator, mentor, disciplinarian and father figure to the school’s students.  “I think of myself as preventative medicine,” he says. “Before kids get out of control, I talk to them about better choices.”

Next year’s recommended budget eliminates intervention aides at all of the school district’s elementary schools, for a potential saving of $300,000. Every elementary school in Norwalk has one full time intervention aide.  On Tuesday, the Board of Education will vote on a recommendend budget to pass onto the city.

Harris deals with children who misbehave on the bus, in bathrooms, hallways and classrooms. “When there is a disruptive child in the classroom, a teacher cannot teach," says principal James Martinez.

When Martinez became principal of Fox Run two years ago, he did away with the “suspension room” and renamed it “The Achievement Center" and made it into a cozy room filled with books and games.  There, Harris talks to children—there can be several at one time—about their actions and ways to handle their behavior differently. He focuses on honesty. “I tell them there’s less of a consequence if they are truthful about a situation.”  The children are expected to do academic work in the room before they are ready to go back to class.

“Kids need to reflect, regroup and rethink before they enter back into the classroom,” says Martinez. “Mr. Harris allows problems to be addressed right away and diffuses situations, before they become bigger problems.”  Harris also acts as a liaison with families. [In fact, this interview with him was cut short because a father and son were waiting outside The Achievement Center to talk to Harris.]

Martinez fears the impact of losing Harris, should his position be cut. One outcome of that would be an increased work load on the assistant principal and social worker who shoulder other responsibilities aside from helping with behavioral damage control. Harris says currently, there are occasions in which he needs the assistant principal to help when he has several cases to handle.  And when needed, Harris involves the social worker who works more closely with outside agencies to address psychological and other issues.

After a student visits The Achievement Center, Harris monitors that child.  “I visit him in his classroom or at lunch,” says Harris who is a youth basketball and football coach outside of school and has six children of his own.  “I give him a look like ‘I’m watching you.'  Believe it or not they like that someone is looking out for them.”

Even when they are not in trouble, kids find their way to Harris’ door.  “They just want to say hi or tell me they did ‘good’ that day.”

Do you know anyone special that may be affected by budget cuts?  Let me know at mnoor@mainstreetconnect.us .

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