You probably already know that North Tama schools succeed at providing an experience that far exceeds that of most small schools, both in Iowa and beyond. What you might not know is one of the interesting ways North Tama has gotten to that point, and one of the people who's been a driving force behind that.
Teresa O'Meara, longtime counselor at North Tama Elementary, was recently honored as the Iowa Elementary School Counselor of the Year at a ceremony in Des Moines on November 5.
O'Meara was recognized, in large part, for the conflict management program she developed that has since gone on to be used in countless other schools.
Teresa O’Meara, Elementary School Counselor at North Tama, poses with the award she won at the Iowa School Counselor Association’s award ceremony on November 5th in Des Moines.
But it's the way the program has been implemented at North Tama that makes O'Meara especially proud.
"Ours in really unique in that we're the only elementary school that I know of in the state that trains all of our fifth graders," O'Meara said. "We don't just choose select kids that we think would do well in the conflict management program."
The program teaches kids ways to manage conflicts that arise everyday by working them out amongst themselves and coming up with creative solutions, as opposed to simlply receiving punishment.
"Conflict management started out in business and industry, and then a student model was developed for it," O'Meara said. "We train all of our kids, so that in and of itself is very unique, as we think conflict management is a life skill our kids need."
And based on the results, it's working.
"Right at the beginning, it showed a real dropoff in the amount of playground referrals," O'Meara said.
The program has had the luxury of one of the most important factors that help lead to success - time - as it was implemented at North Tama 18 years ago.
"I've spent 20 years at North Tama, and some of us were trained in it about 19 years ago," O'Meara said. "A team of us went and did training and realized right off the bat that it would be a good life skill, which is why we think it's incredibly important and why we wanted all of our kids to be trained in it."
In addition to her work at North Tama, O'Meara has lived in Traer during her time at the school and has taught as an adjunct instructor for the graduate conseling program at the University of Northern Iowa. She is also a past president of the Iowa School Counselor Association (ISCA) and former vice president for elementary at ISCA.
For O'Meara, helping kids grow and teaching them valuable life skills is something that's not just a job - it's a calling.
"I'm one of those people that's so fortunate to work in a job that I absolutely love," O'Meara said. "North Tama is very very supportive as a district for school counseling and it is really a great district and community to work in. It really is like a daily award to get to work in a school system like North Tama and with the staff, kids and families that I do."