Hayward Elementary making strides with behavioral program in Sioux Falls School District

One family finding dramatic results through positive intervention efforts at the school.

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Hunter Hardell Sr. (left) with his son Hunter Jr. and wife Trista at Hayward Elementary School in Sioux Falls on Feb. 2, 2023.
Barry Amundson / For Sioux Falls Live

SIOUX FALLS – The phone calls from school came nearly every day.

Hunter and Trista Hardell’s – Hunter Jr. – was getting disciplined or sent to the principal’s office for behavior problems at an elementary school in the Sioux Falls School District.

Trista often had to leave work to pick up Hunter Jr., who is autistic.

“It was about impulse control,” Hunter Sr. said during an interview recently. “He was making bad decisions and being aggressive.”

That all changed this year.


The Hardells moved their son back to Hayward Elementary, where he'd previously attended. It's one of the first schools in the district to implement a positive behavioral intervention system.

Hayward is buried in a westside Sioux Falls neighborhood on Valley View Drive north of 12th Street. The Title 1 school has 670 students and also has a two-way immersion language program. In two-way immersion, a balanced number of native English and Spanish speakers learn to operate in both languages.

The behavioral system is in its second year under principal Derek Maassen. It’s spreading to other schools in the district this year and has brought “dramatic” improvements at Hayward.

“I think every kid wants to do well,” Maassen said. “We try to show that it’s cool to do the right thing.”

At Hayward, the program is called HAWKS, after the school’s mascot. That stands for Here, Accountable, Work hard, Kind and Safe.

Safety has been a factor in many schools across the nation as behavioral problems have stressed teachers, students and administrators. HAWKS, and similar efforts, are just one tier of the Sioux Falls School District’s programs for kids with behavior challenges. They range from building-level efforts, like HAWKS, up to specialized programming for students with more intensive needs such as the Bridges program at Horace Mann Elementary.

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Derek Maassen, principal at Hayward Elementary School in Sioux Falls on Feb. 2, 2023.
Barry Amundson / For Sioux Falls Live

Maassen said HAWKS is working to control difficulties in the classrooms, hallways, playground and lunchroom.

It’s modeled after a national program of positive reinforcement for students.


At Hayward, HAWKS tickets are given for positive student actions with drawings for prizes each week including toys, pens, fanny packs and treats.

The program is data driven where problems are reported as compared to positive actions.

Maassen said the goal is a 5 to 1 ratio of positive student responses over corrective needs.

The school is currently at a 8 to 1 positive ratio which shows it’s working, he said.

Hunter Hardell Jr., now in fourth grade, has been receiving plenty of tickets lately.

He’s now gone 50 days without getting in trouble.

That’s a far cry from the daily calls, some of which were when he was disciplined or sent to the office for such things as kicking another student.

Trista Hardell said what she also likes about the program at Hayward, where she attended school as a youngster, is that they “listen to the parents.”


For example, she suggested to the behavioral program staff that her son’s recess be taken away for a time because of problems on the playground. It worked and her son is now able to safely be part of the activities there.

The other key to their son’s success, and other students’, is that “the staff cares,” she said.

“The teachers here don’t leave either,” she said. “They are here for the long term.”

Maassen said that it takes the cooperation of parents to make the program work.

He said the Hardells are a prime example of that.

Hunter Hardell Sr. comes daily to eat lunch with his son from his job nearby because the lunchroom noise and excess stimulation can be difficult for his son.

Maassen said the neighborhood parents are hardworking and it can sometimes be difficult to be involved. But he said they also want to be a part of their student’s lives and are a key to making improvements.

About 380 students and parents attended a movie night at the school recently. Maassen said they also offer reading and math nights, breakfasts and other activities to give the parents the options.


Maassen estimates that about 10% - about 70 students - have behavioral challenges. However, only about 16 of those are on highly specialized behavioral plans.

The students involved in those programs can be in special education, have learning disabilities, autism or attention deficit disorders.

“We’re here to serve all students,” Maassen said. “Everyone who walks through the door.”

Programs can be tailored to address certain problems for students.

The positive reinforcement approach is working, Maassen said.

“We just have some phenomenal teachers, kids and staff here,” he said.

Maassen credits “the people for being the No. 1 reason” behavioral problems are improving in a big way.

Hunter Hardell Sr. agrees. “The staff here is just very committed to helping each child.”

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