‘Much more meaningful when it’s directed by kids’

HEROs demonstrate leadership, teach respect

HERO team, front row from left: fourth graders Grayson Braddy and Julia Dinesen, and fifth grader Brayden Burgess ; back row from left: fourth grader Audrey Gross and fifth graders Katherine Burde and Victoria Wertsch

On a cold, drizzly morning the Central Elementary HERO team conducted its daily business of addressing all students on the playground and then leading them indoors.

This particular morning was a shortened version of most days, as the fourth and fifth grade HEROs (Helping Everyone Respect Others) announced birthdays and led the Pledge of Allegiance and Central SHINES chant, which stands for Show respect, Has self-control, Is trustworthy, Never gives up, Engaged to learn, and stays Safe.

On display in the hallway at Central Elementary, a bulletin board displays the HERO team and its interests

“The morning meeting is about uniting as a school family and positively starting our day,” Assistant Principal Chris Bernard said. “It is important that we start our day together and remind each other of the expectations outlined in Central SHINES to guide our behavior.”

Second-year HERO and fifth grader Dominic Bierema said it makes him feel good inside to help other students.

“It’s hard for me to watch kids struggle,” Dominic said. “I feel that I’m good with my education and helping other people.”

Beyond leading the students at the morning meetings, Bernard said HEROs recognize students who are seen displaying respect during the school day, run the school store once a month, teach various grade levels about respect and tutor younger students in math and other classes during indoor recess.

“We’re focusing on the idea of respect,” Bernard said. “Their job is to be a student model of what respect means.

The HEROs program is a branch of PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) whose purpose is to create a school-wide culture based on respect. “And the work is much more meaningful when it’s directed by kids,” Bernard said.

Central’s group of 12 fourth and fifth grade students is split into two groups that each lead half the elementary — K-2 and 3-5). The HEROs, chosen through an application process, give up their lunch once a month to train, learn and practice.

Central Elementary HEROs lead their classmates in the Pledge of Allegiance before school

Leadership Is Tops

Resource room teacher Melissa Czarnecki, who started the program five years ago, said the main component for the HEROs is leadership.

“They tend to take that very seriously,” said Czarnecki, who runs the program with second grade teacher Sarah Eadeh. “Their job is to not only lead morning meetings, they help out with all-school assemblies, quieting people down or pulling them together.

“And last year, a lot of them went into our kindergarten classes to read with students or do math games, and talk about respect and what it means with different classes.”

After finishing morning announcements and activities, the HERO team leads all the students into school to start the day

Czarnecki said HEROs came up with many ideas this year to support others, including helping cafeteria employees after lunch, assisting on the playground, aiding teachers in their classrooms, helping younger students with lockers and winter gear, and just spreading kindness.

They also hold a yearly superhero dress-up day where students pay $1 to participate and all proceeds go toward a local charity chosen by the HEROs.

Third grader Safiyah Whip said she leans on the HEROs for advice and help.

“You learn not to bully others and to be respectful of what other people think,” Safiyah said. “And they help you with your questions.”

Fourth-grade HERO Ella McKeiver said she wanted to be a HERO for quite some time.

“When I finally got the chance, I got really excited,” Ella recalled. “A lot of kids I see struggle in math, and it makes me feel good by helping them.”

Central Elementary students line up to begin the morning activities and announcements led by their HEROs
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Cris Greer
For more than three decades, Cris Greer has been a wordsmith, working in the fields of journalism, advertising and marketing. Much of the past decade, he helped grow the MLive Statewide High School Sports desk as a supervisor, editor and reporter, which included eight newspapers in Michigan and mlive.com. Cris also was a freelancer for The Grand Rapids Press, The Advance and On the Town magazine for many years. A good portion of his early career was spent building and managing the copywriting team in the advertising department at Meijer, Inc., where he oversaw copywriting for print ads, mailers, brochures, signage, several dozen in-house magazines per year and much more. Read Cris's full bio or email Cris.

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