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At these schools, students’ hearts and minds are both nurtured

Program focuses on relationships, caring


In Endeavor Elementary School teacher Sheree Bos’ third-grade classroom, students gathered in a living room-style area on futons, pillows and beanbags to talk about how they treat each other and what they need to focus on more.

Student Brooklynn Issa, the week’s teacher’s assistant, led the “family meeting,” reviewing expectations, as outlined on their social contract — a large sheet of paper written on in children’s handwriting of various sizes — with her peers. “Be organized. … Be more accountable. … We should tell the truth,” students said.

Discussion continued after Brooklynn suggested they revisit voice levels in the hallway and talk about what they are doing well. Students answered, “I’m sharing my markers, pens and colored pencils”; “When someone’s talking to other people we don’t talk over them.”

To wrap things up, they chose a focus for the day, something the 8- and 9-year-olds had noticed needs attention. “I think we are doing well on taking turns and I think we should really focus on no put-downs,” said Kimani Belcher.

The class agreed.

‘It started out as being something I just did, but now it’s something I’ve become.’ — third-grade teacher Sheree Bos

About 2 ½ miles away at Challenger Elementary School, third-graders in teacher Heather Cobb’s class wrote down compliments — or affirmations as they call them — about classmates, with everybody giving and receiving one.

“Dear Janiyah, I think you have a really kind heart because when I ask you if I can play with you, you always say ‘yes’ and I have seen you help lots of kids,” read a note to Janiyah Brown from Gisselle Lopez-Zuniga.

Students shared statements face-to-face, taking a small slice of the school day to help each other feel good. About receiving the note, Janiyah said she was “really happy” and, about sharing one with classmate Smile Biswa, “It makes me feel wonderful and proud.”

Challenger student Erica Lemus writes an affirmation for a classmate

Hearts Have Been Captured

From all appearances, Endeavor and Challenger students not only have their heads in the game at school, but their hearts as well.

For the past 12 years, Kentwood Public Schools has gotten students involved in creating classroom expectations, sharing affirmative words and getting to know each other on deeper levels by sharing good news – something positive in a student’s life – to start the day on a positive note. The district uses the Capturing Kids’ Hearts model to reach students in ways that build relationships, improve climate and culture and boost attendance and academic performance.

Endeavor and Challenger are both recipients of the Capturing Kids’ Hearts National Showcase Schools Award for this school year, from the The Flippen Group, the consulting group that developed Capturing Kids’ Hearts. Flippen Group representatives visited nominated schools to assess their implementation of the program and improvements in attendance, discipline, climate and culture or academics. In total, 123 schools received the award, including eight in Michigan.

All Kentwood teachers are trained in the program using a model called EXCEL, which stands for engage, explore, communicate, empower and launch. Turns out, teachers empowering students leads to students empowering each other.

All classrooms at both schools develop social contracts and educators meet all students at the door, greeting each one with a fist bump, handshake or hug.

Challenger student Angelic Pascat reads kind words written about her

Principals See Results

The program works, said Mark Bea, who has served as Endeavor principal for 3 ½ years and was Challenger Elementary principal for 7 ½.

“It’s because it’s directly tied to our vision and mission,” Bea said. “It is our mission to inspire a passion and productive future story for every child, no matter what. We recognize in order to accomplish that mission for every child, everything has to be rooted in relationships. Relationships form the foundation of everything we do.”

Challenger Principal Teressa Gatz said the program has created an environment of “happy kids,” who are greeted several times before the school day even begins. They have the opportunity to share special parts of their lives and are each recognized as part of making school a great place to be.

“Kids know that you care and when they know you care and believe in them, they put in so much effort and they respond,” Gatz said.

Endeavor third-grader Chloe Nguyen explains Capturing Kids’ Hearts in her own way. “It helps us be like living in a big, happy, third-grade family,” she said.

A quote from Flip Flippen hangs in the Endeavor Elementary School office

Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff re-energized the program when he became superintendent four years ago.

“Our goal has always been to ensure that our campuses are emotionally and physically safe places for students,” Zoerhoff said in a press release. “When strong relationships are built, students, staff and parents come alive with a love for learning. You cannot capture a kid’s mind until you have first captured their hearts.”

Bos runs her third-grade classroom at Endeavor with Capturing Kids’ Hearts ingrained into everything she does.

“It started out as being something I just did, but now it’s something I’ve become,” she said. “I’m engaging. I’m exploring. I’m communicating. I’m empowering. I’m launching. This is something that has become a part of me now.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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