10/06/04 — Norwayne students play their way to better relationships

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Norwayne students play their way to better relationships

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 6, 2004 2:00 PM

When seventh-grade students at Norwayne Middle School arrived at school on Tuesday, they found a gymnasium decorated with hula hoops, balloons, Play-Doh and stuffed animals.

The "Play Shop," on which Scott Ertl's book by the same name is based, was a chance for the students to do some creative playing while providing object lessons in respect and character education. Later in the day, Ertl led a workshop for the teachers, adapting similar activities that could be incorporated in the classroom.

Ertl, a school counselor at an elementary school near Winston-Salem, has traveled the country for seven years conducting sessions for educators and students from elementary school through college.

He said his activities are designed to help students form alliances with their peers, focusing on similarities rather than differences.

"At this age, it's so easy for them to be different with their peers than they are at home," he said. "This gives them a chance to be honest with themselves and their friends in order to move on and grow."

Ertl told the 300 students that he could especially relate to what it is like being in seventh grade.

"When I was in seventh grade, my grandmother died," he said. "That same year, my uncle killed himself and my parents divorced. It was the hardest year of my life."

He said he hoped none of the students had such hardships, but understood the difficulty of not being able to talk about some things.

"I think most people are scared," he said. "Hopefully we can pierce through some of that and be honest with each other.

"Why are we all going it alone when we don't need to? It's not like we have to make those connections; they're already there."

Before becoming a full-time school counselor, Ertl said, he worked in the circus for nine years. He was a comedian, magician and juggler, talents he incorporates into his play shops.

But mostly, he relies on familiar toys to serve as subtle confidence boosters for the participants. Students are divided into groups of eight and visit six stations, spending about six minutes at each.

At one station is a hula hoop. Before the student can pass it to the next person, he is encouraged to tell something about himself. Play-Doh offers a chance for the student to create a sculpture representing an accomplishment.

Ertl said in addition to encouraging teambuilding, his main goal is to help identify "sore spots" and start healing them. He defined sore spots as anything that causes a person to feel different or inferior, which could range from weight to appearance.

"Most people have a distorted reality," he said. "It's important to admit we have sore spots and then deal with them."