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‘Learning something new takes courage’

Social, emotional learning curriculum brings positive behavior skills to the classroom

Kenowa Hills — In February, Kenowa Hills students celebrate Black History Month, Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day.

February also means learning about a new behavioral trait through True Success, a program used in all classrooms at Alpine, Central and Zinser elementaries to incorporate positive behavior skills through grade-based videos, short readings and activities.

February’s trait is courage: strength or bravery in the face of fear or the unknown.

Supporting the Whole Child
The True Success curriculum focuses on nine positive behavior skills throughout the school year:
• Respect
• Responsibility
• Gratitude
• Self-control
• Grit
• Courage
• Encouragement
• Compassion
• Integrity

In Lisa Monroe’s fifth-grade class at Central Elementary, students discussed things they were afraid of during True Success time at the beginning of their day.

Some students talked about fears like water slides and roller coasters. Others shared they were afraid of giving speeches or of embarrassing themselves in front of peers. 

“Courage is like a muscle; it is strengthened by using it,” Monroe said, reading from the True Success lesson plan projected on the white board. 

After watching a video clip from the Disney movie, “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” Monroe asked her students to turn to their classmates and talk about what happens when people don’t take risks or face their fears to try new things. 

Around the corner from Monroe’s classroom, Kelsey Graham’s first-graders watched the same video clip where Dusty, a retired racing plane, first joins a new team of firefighting airplanes devoted to protecting Piston Peak National Park. 

“Raise your hand to tell me how Dusty felt joining a new group,” Graham asked her students following the clip.

“Nervous,” Asher Piccard said.

“Really scared. He wanted to help but didn’t have any supplies,” Hunter Smith added. 

“Starting and learning something new takes courage,” Graham told her students as she passed out an activity sheet. The class then began brainstorming the kinds of new skills or activities they wanted to learn. 

In Lisa Monroe’s class at Central Elementary, fifth-grade students discuss things they are afraid of during True Success time

Accessible for Everyone 

Five years ago, the leadership at Central recognized the need to continue shifting the focus of classroom learning to include social, emotional and behavioral skills. True Success was their solution. 

“We made sure to choose a program accessible to all students regardless of ability,” Assistant Principal Chris Bernard said. “We have to own that responsibility to support and care for the whole child.”

Following Central’s lead, Alpine and Zinser elementary schools also began using True Success in 2019. In 2020, Alpine received the True Success Implementation Award for their first year of completing the program.  

At Central, teachers are expected to teach True Success lessons at least twice a week, but they are free to be flexible with how and when. Four different lessons based on the month’s trait are available each week. 

“Each month is a different character trait and guides you through the lesson with discussion questions to help students engage in conversation,” Monroe said. “It’s easy to build into your day and your curriculum. You fit in what works for you.”  

True Success’s monthly traits reflect themes of that time of year. For example, November’s theme is gratitude, while January’s is grit. 

“We have to own that responsibility to support and care for the whole child.”

— Chris Bernard, assistant principal

Monroe described the lessons as “organic” and “a springboard for conversation about how we should be acting towards one another.”

“The most significant feedback we got from teachers was that we recognized the need for a program like this, but they couldn’t handle ‘one more thing’ on their plates,” Bernard said. “True Success stood out with the simplicity of the lessons and effectiveness of the curriculum. It fits the wide range of teacher’s capacities, takes stress away from our teachers and provides common language for us to use in our building, and helps students identify big feelings.”

The program also makes it easy to collect data. True Success provides monthly assessments of teachers using the lessons, keeping record of the resources teachers use. Twice a year, students also take a self-assessment to rate themselves on their improvement in behavioral skills, social awareness and relationship building. 

Expanding the Program

Since implementing True Success at Central, the staff has found ways to expand on the existing curriculum to provide more opportunities for students to apply the lessons to real life. 

“We’ve taken this system and we’re doing more to tie it back to True Success, making it alive and relevant,” Bernard said. “We want to celebrate all kids when they do the right things.”

Students can earn “Shine tickets” for exemplifying each month’s trait with their teachers and peers. Every week, those tickets are entered into a drawing to win a prize chosen by their teachers. 

Since implementing the program at Central, Bernard and his staff have seen more and more students making positive decisions throughout their day, instead of making poor ones.

“Every single kid has the potential to earn a Shine ticket and I want to support kids for displaying good behavior,” Bernard said. “Our fourth- and fifth-graders have even started handing out Shine tickets when they recognize their peers and younger students showing that month’s trait, which helps take pressure off our teachers.”

He added: “Kids are making mistakes and positive decisions throughout their day, but we want to celebrate all of our students.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter, covering Caledonia, Kenowa Hills, Godfrey-Lee, Grand Rapids and is a roving reporter for GRCC, Wyoming, Kentwood and Byron Center. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News - covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry.  Following a stint as a copywriter for a Grand Rapids area PR firm, she transitioned from communications to freelance writing and reporting for SNN.  Read Alexis' full bio

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