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Students say school captures their hearts, in a good way

New behavior program produces positive results

Caledonia — Sixth-grader Nolan Van’tHoff plays the double bass, his favorite subject is math and his favorite thing about school is getting to see his friends and teachers every day. 

When he walks into Kraft Meadows Intermediate School, his teacher “goes out of his way” to welcome him and his classmates, he says.

“It’s part of our routine now and it makes you feel pretty good,” Nolan said. “I really like connecting with people, learning and growing my mind at school.” 

Another sixth-grader, Trinity Reed, says her teacher also greets her with a handshake every morning.

“My teacher makes eye contact when they give us handshakes and it really introduces you to your day in a positive way,” she said.

Nolan and Trinity are examples of students who have noticed a positive difference in their teachers and classmates this year, since the district launched a new training for employees in Capturing Kids’ Hearts this summer. 

‘School is always trying to teach us new things and real-life skills, like how to get work done when you’re in a job and how to treat people with respect.’

— sixth-grader Nolan Van’tHoff

That curriculum is designed to equip educators with skills to build meaningful relationships, create a safe learning environment and respond to positive and negative behavior. 

It works hand-in-hand with the district’s existing Multi-Tiered Systems of Support and Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports frameworks.

“It was a great opportunity for our staff to come together districtwide and learn about the important role each of us plays in the lives of our students,” Superintendent Dedrick Martin said. “We have been working to create a culture district-wide, where every student feels connected to a positive environment with trusting adults throughout their day.”

When asked about his school’s environment, Nolan said he felt like he had safe adults looking out for him, from his teacher to the office secretaries and principal. 

Students and Social Contracts 

As part of implementing Capturing Kids’ Hearts in all schools, students wrote their own social contracts defining expectations in their classrooms. 

“All the kids participated in writing things like participating, making good choices, treating others the way you want to be treated and 100% responsibility and 0% excuses,” Nolan said. “It’s about everyone, not just a few students, and was very enjoyable to make.” 

Similar to his peers, Nolan expects to be treated with respect and kindness while at school and said he sees the real-world application. 

“School is always trying to teach us new things and real life skills, like how to get work done when you’re in a job and how to treat people with respect,” he said. 

At Duncan Lake Middle School, seventh-grader Tiona Sakala said she thinks social contacts make behavior expectations obvious to students. 

“Based on our social contract, I think good behavior has increased, maturity has increased, and we’ve created a very positive environment,” she said. “When you stay focused and pay attention to lessons, you get more out of it.” 

Seventh-grader Tiona Sakala and eighth-grader Claire James, shown here with a poster for Capturing Kids’ Hearts, say they have noticed positive changes at Duncan Lake Middle School this year

Eighth-grader Claire James said following social contracts helps to strengthen positive relationships between teachers and students. 

“Bonds between us and teachers are special and it makes it more fun to come to class. They make you feel noticed when you’re at school,” she said. 

In Nolan’s classroom, if a student speaks negatively about another student, they have to give them two compliments or nice comments and then try to resolve the conflict.

“You can encourage your classmates to check themselves and rethink their behavior,” he said. “You’re always supposed to follow your contract the best you can while you’re at school. The lunch room is different from Spanish class, but kindness and respect still apply.”

Superintendent Martin said employees will continue to be trained in Capturing Kids’ Hearts, “as it’s important that students do not feel invisible in our schools.” He added, “When we build a culture of trust and caring, our students will thrive even more in the academic environment.” 

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Alexis Stark
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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