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Photos: Life at Kivalina's McQueen School

Kivalina's McQueen School. Nov. 21, 2012
Courtesy McQueen School
Students with a robot at Kivalina's McQueen School. Nov. 19, 2012
Courtesy McQueen School
Students in a classroom at Kivalina's McQueen School. Nov. 21, 2012
Courtesy McQueen School
Students in a classroom at Kivalina's McQueen School. Nov. 21, 2012
Courtesy McQueen School
Students in a classroom at Kivalina's McQueen School. Nov. 21, 2012
Courtesy McQueen School
Alaska Dispatch

In the Northwest Alaska village of Kivalina, everyone seems to agree that something about McQueen School is different this year. Everyone is getting along better. And it both looks and feels different. A makeover during the summer added fresh paint and carpet. Creating new classrooms helped, too, as did a new method for communicating expectations to students.

“Seems like I'm in a different school,” said Becky Norton, the parent of three boys who attend McQueen and longtime school employee who has worked as a janitor, bilingual teacher and most recently, a teacher's aide. “I've been really amazed at what's going on this year. It was just like flipping over a pancake.”

Behavior and attitudes are better, something Norton, the teachers and the principal attribute to a program called CHAMPS. The acronym stands for Conversation, Help, Activity, Movement, Participation and Success, and it serves as an inventory kids can take to figure out how rambunctious or quiet they should be, or how much talking, if any, is appropriate at any given time. It's a classroom-management strategy that requires all teachers to use the same code words and the same system for setting and communicating expectations.

Since it began, there have been fewer miscommunications and misunderstandings. Parents and grandparents are on board. And the McQueen School, which had a slow beginning this year thanks to a series turbulent downpours, is off to an excellent start.

“I have seen a tremendous change. I'm so proud of our students and staff,” Norton said.

READ MORE: An education silver lining for storm-ravaged Kivalina