MOUNT VERNON — Knox County Head Start was recently named a Head Start Center of Excellence, one of only 10 in the United States to be so designated. A major reason for the designation is the agency’s utilization of the philosophy and practices of conscious discipline, a system of self-regulation, discipline and guidance for adults and children alike.
Jody Kruki is the coordinator of the Early Childhood Center, where some Head Start programs are housed. She said conscious discipline impacts everything at the center, and has a calming effect. She said it teaches techniques and skills that can be used everywhere.
The creator of conscious discipline, Dr. Becky Bailey, was visiting the center this week, interviewing parents, staff and children and videotaping conscious discipline in action. Bailey said she plans to use KCHS as a role model for other agencies and schools.
“I’m excited to be here and I’m excited that this place was recognized,” she told the News on Tuesday. “There’s a wonderful thing happening here in Mount Vernon. You have a great resource in this center, right here. There are only 10 of these centers [of excellence] in the whole United States, and you have one right here. It’s like having a little gold mine in your own backyard.”
Bailey, a developmental psychologist and educator, said she was pleased with what she saw and heard. She said the conscious discipline system, based on actual brain research, is designed to help individuals manage their emotions, manage their thoughts and manage their actions. Knox County Head Start children are benefiting, she said.
In addition to a different approach to challenging situations by teachers and staff members, Bailey said the children themselves are taught how to handle situations as soon as they get upset or frustrated.
“With the little kids we call it ‘Be a star.’ Star means smile, take a breath and relax,” she said. “We’ve seen fewer and less severe behavior problems and less aggressive behavior as a result.”
The children are also taking those skills they have learned home with them, Bailey said.
“At the school here,” Bailey said, “there is a place called the safe place. It’s not a time out, it’s not a punishment. It’s just like a learning center where the child can go and calm him- or herself down. Two parents I talked with said, at their old place, their children would come home and scream and cry and be angry and have a bad day. Now, after the Head Start experience, their children went home and created a safe place of their own. And these were 3- and 4-year-olds. Now, they come home and they’re helpful. They can talk to each other and say, ‘I don’t like it’ instead of hitting each other. ... The most powerful thing to me is, the adults have to catch up with what the children have learned.”
Bailey hopes other agencies, the public schools and the Mount Vernon community at large will embrace the principles of conscious discipline and take advantage of what can be learned through Knox County Head Start.
“We’ve got to learn to self-regulate,” she said. “As a country, as a world, we need to recognize and manage our emotions, thoughts and actions. We really need to teach kids how to use communication skills instead of physical or verbal aggression, and the window of opportunity in our brain to learn that is from birth to age 8. ... Kids can learn reading and math later, or get a lot of help on it. There’s not a country in the world where people can’t read and write and stuff, but very few countries are doing well at not hitting their neighbors. We’re having a bit of a problem on that.”