A Positively Positive First Day

Senior Joe Villarreal writes down his dream
What is Your Dream?

A big sheet of paper with a big question written in big letters and spread across 8-foot-long tables greeted high schoolers on the first day. Students’ answers were full of hope, ambition, compassion and a bit of humor.

Their dreams

  • “To be a teacher.”
  • “To live a successful life.”
  • “To be remembered long after my death.”
  • “To be in the military.”
  • “To get more friends.”
  • “To be a meme!”
  • “Get rich.”
  • “Learn more about cars and stuff.”
  • “I don’t dream, I do.”

Their compassion

  • Hail Harambe!
  • To revive Harambe (the gorilla that was shot earlier this year after a child fell into his zoo enclosure).
  • “To be a better person.”

Their humor

  • “To eat pizza” (served for free for lunch the first day)
  • “To not be here.”
  • “To get girls.”
  • “To drive a dope car.”
  • “To be a cow.”

The high school band blared from the stage while students and teachers, sugared up on free doughnuts, packed the auditorium at the start of the first day of school, designed to get students off to a positive start.

“Yeaahh! It’s the first day!” yelled English teacher Molly Stableras she waved her hands. “Positive, positive, positive is the way to be! I firmly believe students reflect a teacher’s energy, so I am not shy about mine.”

It’s the second year the district has made its first day all about building the ‘TK Strong’ spirit. Like many districts across Kent ISD, TK Principal Tony Petersen said one of the goals is to help students think of school as not just a school, but as a family. To make that point, students from different grades are organized into “families” the first day and remain each other’s family until they graduate, meeting monthly to discuss school and life topics.

“The first year was just incredible,” Petersen said. “Professionally, it was one of the best school years I’ve been a part of.”

Last year the school worked to teach students expectations, behavior and changing concepts on punishment. This year it will combine those with employability skills and service. Superintendent Tom Enslen said he’s seen a difference in students, and he credits it to the new ways of thinking. “The data is substantiating its effectiveness,” he said. “The discipline numbers are down.”

Celebrations took place at each school building, and goals for the year were set depending on grade level. Kindergarteners, for example, will get tickets for good behavior.

A winner will be chosen who gets to go to the office for a prize. “They really like getting them,” said Karen Young, a McFall Elementary kindergarten teacher.

Teacher Molly Stabler shows students a Confucius quote
Teacher Molly Stabler shows students a Confucius quote

Some of her students even tell her when they’ve seen someone else do something nice, she said.

At the root of these rambunctious first days is a Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports program that several schools have adopted in the last few years. Petersen said members of his staff took parts of the program to use at TK.

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio

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