Van Berkum honored, intervention ‘Person of the Year’

Friday, March 6, 2020
Sherie Van Berkum receving her award in a Monday assembly, and in her ‘sensory room.’ /Photos by Stephanie Lynam

When Alta Elementary School students are having a bad day and feel anxious or upset, just need a break or deserve a reward, they have a place to go. Sherie Van Berkum’s room is considered a refuge for the pre-K through fourth-grade students.

Van Berkum is the Behavior Interventionist/At Risk Coordinator at the school and was stunned at the March 2 assembly when she received an award for PLAEA’s PBIS Person of the Year Award, recognizing her work on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) from Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency (PLAEA). 

Melissa Wurth, PBIS coordinator, presented Van Berkum with a trophy as the student body clapped and cheered. Nominations had been received from staff at the school, resulting in the award. Only two of these awards were presented locally this year.

Wurth said Van Berkum has been a very integral part of the implementation of PBIS at the school. “She does an awesome job of engaging with the students,” Wurth said.

Elementary School Principal Stacy Mueller knows that Van Berkum, who has worked at Alta schools for 16 years, is highly deserving. “She is the light of everyone’s day. She’s so positive.”

When walking down the hallway after receiving the award, Van Berkum received several “Congratulations!” from the young students who know her well.

She described her purpose. “We make a big deal out of small successes! We do snacks, hugs, high fives - Warrior Respectful, Responsible, and Safe reminders throughout the day.”

Her goal surpasses fun, but is also about modeling and giving students strategies. “The Recovery Room is here to help equip and teach students how to work through their acting out behaviors. It has a time out corner where students come to calm down. It is also used for a break time or a quiet workspace, a place to teach students positive ways to use their energy and de-escalate - to be proactive,” Van Berkum said, adding that additionally it is used as a reward for positive behavior and to build positive relationships for all students.

She welcomes students to her colorful room who just need a break. “Sensory breaks include but not limited to bubble wrap hopscotch and an obstacle course,” she said.

On a regular basis, she checks in with the teachers to remind them of what she has to offer, and summed up why her room is available. “We want kids to know that they matter and that we care about them.”