By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Sunnyside Elementary School
Janea Scott, 7, hugs Ruby Bell every morning before school starts. The reason is “because she’s nice” and because it’s a good way to start the day.
“Miss Bell,” as she is called, carries a bell everywhere she goes at Sunnyside Elementary School. She has worked at the in San Francisco campus for 35 years and is as much an institution as the morning bell that calls students to class.
Her title is “elementary student adviser.” This basically means her job is to dispense wisdom, dole out common sense and bring polar opposites to a consensus, no matter what their age, size or job title. She is an education support professional and member of United Educators of San Francisco.
“I love what I’m doing; it sustains my longevity,” she says. “I’m uniquely qualified for this job because of my years of service, because I’m raising two grandchildren, and because I know kids.”
During a recent visit, Miss Bell’s diplomacy skills are put to the test. A boy in the lunchroom is crying because someone has hit him. A boy nearby readily admits the deed, claiming it was an accident.
“Say you’re sorry,” says Miss Bell. The boy apologizes, but the other boy won’t accept the apology because it wasn’t said loudly enough. Miss Bell asks the aggressor to apologize in a louder voice. He does, and peace reigns in the lunchroom once again.
If her bell rings once, it’s a warning to students. If her bell rings two or more times, she is sounding an alarm telling students to cease and desist whatever they are doing immediately. Most of the time, however, the bell is just for show, because Miss Bell has a way of talking to people and making them see reason by simply getting them to calm down, look at both sides of an issue and talk it out.
When she’s not on the playground or in the lunchroom, the elementary adviser might be in the office having “conversations” with students that need an attitude adjustment from the grandmotherly school employee.
“I encourage them to pay attention, listen to the teacher and raise their hands if they have any questions,” says Miss Bell. “I make sure they are respectful and listening. If a kid is hitting another kid, I ask them why. Usually they say the other child hit them first. I ask, ‘What else could you have done? What else should you have done?’ I encourage them to let another adult know what’s happening and let that adult handle it from there.”
As the parent liaison, Miss Bell explains to parents what is going on in the classroom with their child. If two parents disagree on a course of action, she makes them see the wisdom in working together for the sake of their child. She is part of the “SST” or Student Support Team, joining with teachers, administrators and parents to talk about what kinds of special services might be necessary for a student.
“Parents can get heated,” says Miss Bell. “That’s when I step in. Sometimes parents will communicate only with me, which can make things easier for the teachers. I always maintain my tone and never get high-toned with parents.”
Kari Gray, PTA president, says everyone loves Miss Bell because she is kind, caring, and never gets frustrated, impatient or irritated with anybody. “She is our school treasure,” says Gray.
“She is very understanding,” says fifth-grader Jocelyn Nunez. “If I have a problem, I can talk to her about it. And even if it’s my fault, she understands.”
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