Metro-East News

Alhambra school put second-grader in ‘box’ to address classroom talking

Melody Haller discusses Alhambra Primary’s use of a cardboard partition to separate her son from other students in his classroom.
Melody Haller discusses Alhambra Primary’s use of a cardboard partition to separate her son from other students in his classroom. BND

Melody Haller was furious when she found out that her 8-year-old son spent his school days surrounded on four sides by a cardboard wall.

At Alhambra Primary School, this was how they addressed Haller’s son’s disruptive behavior in the classroom.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Haller said.

Haller’s son, whom she asked not be named, occasionally had behavior issues, mostly talking in class, at his old school — Highland Primary. Teachers dealt with it by offering incentives, such as candy, if he went all day without talking. Haller was angry that her son was spending his class days behind cardboard walls too high to see without standing up.

“There are times in the classroom a partition can be used effectively to limit classroom student disruptions,” said Alhambra Primary Principal Cynthia Tolbert.

Another child in Haller’s class told his or her parents that there was a “boy in a box” in class, according to Haller. The child’s parents told Haller.

When Haller went to the school, she discovered her son had been in the box since Feb. 10 to sometime in late February. She asked Tolbert about it, but wasn’t satisfied and went to Highland Community School District Superintendent Mike Sutton.

“In general, I think a partition can be used effectively to limit disruptions in the classroom setting,” Sutton said. “The key to finding successful strategies is good communication between school and home.”

In general, I think a partition can be used effectively to limit disruptions in the classroom setting. The key to finding successful strategies is good communication between school and home.

Superintendent Mike Sutton

Sutton called Tolbert about not using the strategies unless the parent was notified, Sutton said. He talked about employing other strategies to address disruptive behavior.

Patrick Jones, an educational consultant who operates Fred Jones Tools for Teaching in Santa Cruz, Calif., agreed other strategies would be more effective.

“Further separating the kid makes kids resentful,” Jones said. Resentful behavior does not foster trust and cooperation. Ultimately, you want them to cooperate with you.”

Jones also advocates using incentives by offering a preferred activity time, such as playing an educational game, for the whole class if behaviors are good. If a particular child is disruptive, they can have an individual plan, offering additional play time if the child is compliant

“That way everyone wins when the kid does well,” Jones said. “Instead of being a problem, the kid gets to be a hero to the class.”

The boy had started Alhambra Primary in Highland School District 5 in December when the family moved. He previously went to Highland Primary where he was an “A” and “B” student, according to Haller. At first, Haller said her son liked the school, but that changed. His first progress report showed failing grades in spelling and reading.

“He asked me if we could please move back,” Haller said.

Ultimately, that happened. Haller’s son was allowed to go back to Highland Primary. The district is providing transportation, Haller said.

Sutton declined to comment, citing a specific student situation.

Tolbert and Sutton said the policy at Alhambra has not necessarily changed.

“We had conversations about specific behavior concerns of many students and how to best ensure the appropriate behaviors are encouraged. I believe the most notable takeaway was that of communication with parents,” Sutton said. “We are reviewing the best strategies that our students are prepared to enter the next grade level.”

Beth Hundsdorfer: 618-239-2570, @bhundsdorfer

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