Life lessons link student to success

Elementary curriculum focuses on grit, self-control

Kristine Weller asks students when they have shown grit in their lives outside of the classroom

When students in Kristine Weller’s Central Elementary second-grade class come and go for the day, they pass along reminders of their strength.

As part of TrueSuccess, a program in its first year at Kenowa Hills, students made “Grit Badges” that show them overcoming challenges in and out of the classroom. One girl drew a picture of herself on skis facing her fear of skiing.  A shy student drew a picture of herself raising her hand and participating in class. “Some of the badges really surprised me, in a great way,” Weller said.

TrueSuccess will hopefully help students achieve the goals on their badges, she said. “I put them up in the hallway so that it’s the first thing that they see in the morning and something that they pass when they go to their lockers to go home,” Weller said. “It’s a reminder of something personal that they have the strength to overcome.”

TrueSuccess lessons focus on characteristics of personal strength like grit, fear and self-control. A Grand Rapids-based nonprofit, the program was founded by Bill Heneveld, an engineering consultant who became passionate about equipping kids with positive behavior skills to make wise choices for their best life.

Lessons feature video clips, classroom activities and discussions about real-life examples of character in students’ lives using props and visual helpers.

Reiss Parkinson, Brianna Sutherlin and Ava Gigliotti, students in Kelsey Graham’s first-grade class, are TrueSuccess-ers

“Fear can get in the way of trying new things,” Weller said, of the lesson’s theme. “We have to try to worry less and try more, like getting through the first day of school or reading a new chapter book.”

Weller told her class about a fear she is trying to face. “I really want to try Pickleball, but I’ve been afraid to try it for a really long time,” she said. “But I have always wanted to do it, so I am going to try it, and you should try things too.”

Sharing the Love

All Kenowa Hills classrooms are implementing TrueSuccess at the elementary level. Nationwide, more than 130,000 kids in grades K-12 use the program.

It’s creating a stronger classroom dynamic, said first-grade teacher Kelsey Graham. “Students are really enjoying getting to share messages of affirmation and strength. These are skills that students can take with them for life.”

Graham has an “affirmation station” in her class, where students share good news and give compliments to one another.

“You get to tell people something about them that you like and they smile, and then you are better friends,” said first- grader Cameron Overway.

First-grader Ava Gigliotti’s favorite part about TrueSuccess is the shift in atmosphere.

“Even when you are having a bad day, you can come in to class and then you get to hear funny stories and talk to your friends about how great they have been,” Ava said.

Kelsey Graham posts nice notes and pictures she gets from her students on the window to encourage positive behavior in the classroom

A Creative Approach

Second-grade teacher Jamel Debri values the connection the program creates between student and teacher. Students are open about what is going on in their lives, she said. They share “Good News” every morning and follow a social contract, a set of principles, created by the students for good behavior.

Plus, TrueSuccess allows children to learn in a non-traditional way. “Curriculum can be rigid sometimes; this program lends itself to the creative outlets the other lessons are sometimes lacking,” Debri said.

Looking ahead, Debri, Weller and Graham hope to find more ways to incorporate the TrueSuccess curriculum into the classroom community.

“We’re all so impressed by this program and what our students are getting out of it,” Weller said. “I’m so excited that this is becoming a norm for my classroom.”

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A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit. Read Hannah's full bio.

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