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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Eastwood Eagles SOAR — and dance!

Sep 20, 2018 01:40PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Kindergartners and first-graders at Eastwood Elementary loved learning dances at the Sept. 7 SOAR party. Instructor Carlos Diaz called up student volunteers, and teacher non-volunteers, to dance on stage with him. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected] 

Kids at Eastwood Elementary School who followed the school’s SOAR good behavior program earned the chance to get out of class on Sept. 7 for a dance party with a professional dance instructor. 

Principal Naomi Hopf loves the kids she has at Eastwood Elementary. “We have an amazing school, tons of parent support — that’s number one. Our teachers are so good at what they do,” Hopf said. So when she implemented a positive behavior reinforcement program with monthly reward incentives last year, she was confident it would be a success. 

Since they’re Eagles, Hopf decided the acronym SOAR was a perfect way to reinforce good behavior. “It stands for Safe, Outstanding, Accountable and Respectful. In each area there are specific expectations along with an appropriate voice level,” Hopf said. Students who use the SOAR qualities are invited to a monthly event, like the dance party that was held on Sept. 7. 

“We try to make SOAR events something that will motivate all the kids to earn it. We’re just three weeks into the school year, and today every student has earned the SOAR privilege. We hope that it gives them the incentive to keep going each month,” Hopf said.

If a student’s behavior doesn’t meet the expectations, they get a reminder called a “Choose to SOAR” slip. Each student can get one of these per month and still earn the chance to attend a SOAR event. But two or more means they’ll have to miss it and try again next time. 

Professional dance instructor Carlitos Diaz of Fun Dance Studio in Roy ran the event last year and was asked back again this year. He said this day is about so much more than a earning a reward. “I started this program six years ago doing an activity that combines dance and entertainment for kids. Dancing makes you feel good. You’re not doing it right or wrong. We just want kids to have fun,” Diaz said. 

Diaz, who is originally from Chile, has the classroom management technique of a veteran teacher. As kids filed into the auditorium, he walked around to give them each a high five. When some kids started moving to the energetic background music, he said, “I love it!” That let the other kids know it was okay to let loose. His playlist included well-known songs in English and Spanish, and some students sang along. 

When Diaz was ready to get the kids dancing, he called out to them from the stage, “Are you ready for some fun?” After a half-hearted reply from students, he shook his head. “That was enough energy for a Tuesday or a Wednesday. But today is Friday! Now, are you ready to have some FUN?” This time Diaz’s question was met with an ear-shattering “YES!”  

For the next half hour, the kids, who were roughly divided by grade, learned some basic, repetitive steps from Diaz. Hopf and all the teachers in the room joined in, too. Everyone was having a great time. This proved Diaz’s philosophy. “The program is for everybody. I’ve done it for elementary school kids, teenagers, cheerleaders, firefighters, police officers. My goal is that every single person will be able to be involved and have fun. And using music in Spanish helps because the kids aren’t worrying what it says, they just feel the rhythm. When I see a kid who is smiling, that’s my payoff,” Diaz said. 

Third-grade teacher Jenny Gelwix loved that every student in the room was engaged during the activity. “We did the dance party last year, and it was one of the kids’ favorite things. This is definitely something that the kids have to earn. So there is a lot of motivation to keep them going with SOAR behavior all year long,” Gelwix said. A minute later, Gelwix was called on stage, which her kids loved. When the session ended, Diaz told the kids to remember that if they are having a hard day, take some time to dance, and you can start to feel better. 

Eastwood also does a SOAR store, where tickets for good behavior can be accumulated and traded in for fun items. But the social aspect of the SOAR events is a great motivator for the students. Third-grader Amelia Edwards, who had a great time dancing with her friends, agreed. “My favorite part is spending time with teachers and friends that aren’t in my class or grade. The activities are super fun. They motivate me to be kind to others, to not break any rules, and to always follow my teachers’ examples,” Amelia said.