In 2013, Ball State alumnus Anthony Williams began working as principal of Allen Elementary, a job he knew wouldn’t be easy.  

Williams said he was warned of the school’s bad reputation, and in his first year as principal over 200 students were suspended for problematic behavior in the classroom.

“Kids really do enjoy school and kids really do want to come to school, but I think there’s really two different things going on,” Williams said. “We have to motivate them, so we have to make it worthwhile to come to school. How do you do that? 

“Building relationships, connecting with students, so those were things that we had to continue to do, and I think also you have to work on changing the behavior.” 

Students knew if they misbehaved they would be suspended and sent home, but Williams recalls some were “completely apathetic” toward learning. 

Williams and his colleagues wanted to find a long-term solution to the issue, but he knew the behavior had to be changed before progress could be made.

“If they’re totally defiant or disrespectful, we can’t have them come back in the next day after suspending them and think the behavior is going to change because we suspended them for a day,” Williams said.

Williams worked with his colleagues, including two other Ball State alumni, Lendon Schwartz and Janetta Messner, to find a program that would fit the school’s needs. After doing research, the group formed New Beginnings.  

New Beginnings is an alternative-to-suspension program. It keeps students in school and engaged in their academics while addressing social skills they’ll need when they graduate the program.

Students work their way up three different levels within the program by earning points through good behavior. 

Throughout the 2014-15 school year, students engaged in roleplay to address how to properly handle social situations based upon their initial infraction. Students would work with the school’s social worker and guidance counselor, who gave the students the emotional, behavioral and academic support they needed to succeed.

After New Beginnings’ first year at Allen Elementary, only 16 total suspensions were issued. 

“Kids come to school with a lot of bad habits. They aren’t born that way, but they learn from their environment,” said Messner, who is the current assistant principal of Allen Elementary. “It’s a matter of showing them a different way, teaching them a different way.”

After witnessing the success of the program, Schwartz, former assistant principal of Allen Elementary, decided to introduce New Beginnings to Riverview Elementary when he became principal in 2015. 

Now, schools in other districts and states are reaching out to adopt New Beginnings.

“There is definitely a need out there,” Schwartz said. “The more we try to share our story, the hope is that the state will see the need to provide funding for a program like this for elementary.”

Contact Adam Pannel with comments at arpannel@bsu.edu