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ELITE delivers upbeat presentation to District 150 board

Cass Herrington
Peoria Public Radio

The program that aims to improve student behavior in District 150 presented some promising findings to the school board this week.

ELITE implemented its “school within a school” concept in Lincoln School and Harrison Community Learning Center  in December.

Two months later, both programs have seen significant changes in student behavior and academic performance. On the NWEA tests, 11 out of 15  students at Harrison and 12 out of 15 students at Lincoln improved reading scores. 

Lincoln principal Thomas Blumer says most of the kids in the classroom have never experienced a stretch of success in their lives:      

“That’s our failure that we have 6th, 7th and 8th graders who have never had any success,” Blumer said. “So there it is, there’s two months of work.”

In that span of time, an overwhelming majority of students in both Lincoln’s and Harrison’s ELITE classrooms improved NWEA math and reading and test scores.

Harrison’s ELITE teacher Janet Riley says for her, the improvements run deeper than academics.

“In my heart of hearts I think we’re talking about maybe saving lives here, because the first reaction does not have to be anger and violence,” Riley said. “We’re teaching them there are different skills that will help them get what they want in an appropriate way.”

Riley says for some, this is the first opportunity they’ve had to learn skills, like communication.

The “intangible” improvements were a common theme during Monday night’s presentation. Hedy Elliott, who teaches the ELITE classroom at Lincoln, says she’s witnessed a “rebirth” in her students.

“The kids smiling, running to class, hugging me every day. Hugging me every hour,” Elliott said. “I had to leave the other day for a meeting briefly, and one of the kids said, ‘hey you’re not getting out of here without a hug.'"

Last summer, the board wrestled with the decision to pay for ELITE in the midst of a more than $13 million deficit at the time. The board voted to pay $270,000 to set up a program at Lincoln School. A few months later, ELITE’s founder Carl Cannon raised enough funds to implement it at Harrison.

The schools identify students with problems of frequent misconduct and place them in a classroom, guided by ELITE-trained teachers and classroom monitors.

Cannon says the aim is to reintroduce ELITE’s students, previously typecast as “bad apples,” back into the conventional classroom. 

"For 14 years, I've been talking about we need a transition," Board President Martha Ross said. "To give kids a place where they can get ready to come back into a classroom, and this is the closest thing I've seen it come so far."

Cannon said he wants to continue expanding the program to other schools where ELITE is needed.