Gulfport schools target behavioral problems early in hopes of preventing violence

Gulfport schools target behavioral problems early in hopes of preventing violence

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gun violence hit close to home for Central Elementary on Pass Rd. On Wednesday, shots were fired in a nearby neighborhood, and a bus with some students on board had to return to the school.

"What we did as a faculty, we started transporting those students home, knowing their parents would be worried," said Central Elementary Principal Sandra Wilks.

Gulfport schools have various programs in place to help students deal with emotional and behavioral problems and create a safe haven for children.

Wilks believes in building relationships with her students and dealing with disciplinary problems at an early age. This year, Central Elementary hired a full-time art teacher, Susan McCay, who says art is therapeutic for children.

"It gives them an outlet, and in my class, it's a safe place for them to express what they have in their heart," said McCay.

Instrumental music pipes through the halls to help calm the children and stimulate learning. Teachers and principals go the extra mile by walking children home after school to build stronger bonds with the students.

"You find out things from students in that setting that you don't find out in the school setting, they open up," said Wilks.

Along with having a school counselor, Central Elementary has partnered with the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center to provide a full-time therapist on campus. Due to an increase in the workload, the school is getting another therapist in April to work one-one-one with students to target problems like anger management, conflict resolution and coping skills.

Teachers also offer after-school tutoring sessions to work closely with their students and principals meet daily with students who have disciplinary issues. Teachers say they've noticed some changes in behavior.

"At the beginning of the year, it was like zero to 60 with the emotions, getting upset really fast. They can kind of take that choice and decide, I'm going to cool off for a minute before I react and we have seen a difference here," said McCay.

Another way the school is trying to create a more positive environment is to change its mascot, which used to be a pirate. After getting input from the staff and the community, the school felt it had a negative connotation, and they are now known as the "Central Sailors".
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