The first week of school looked a lot friendlier to students at East Wake Middle School last week as they re-entered the classroom or were just beginning middle school.
Teachers firmly shook their hands and greeted them by name in each class, ensuring that the students felt welcome and most importantly, that the teacher cared for them personally.
When students return to the Knightdale School of Collaborative Design later this month, they will see much of the same, since faculty and staff from both schools underwent training this summer through a program called “Capturing Kids’ Hearts.” The program focuses on building a learning environment through relationships.
With a new principal at East Wake Middle and a second-year head man at Knightdale High Rebecca Beaulieu and Jim Argent are working together to help smooth out a strategy for most of the students’ education, since most Knightdale children are on a track to attend both schools.
“We wanted to do some vertical collaboration,” Beaulieu said. “We thought that this would be a great community collaborative event. ... When the effort continues it benefits (everyone)... If they see us as working toward a bigger goal, the parents and community have more buy-in.”
Staff at both schools have even scheduled more activities after the two-day training session to increase collaboration and interaction between the schools.
The training, which had an initial session hosted at the Marbles Museum in downtown Raleigh, provided teachers with ideas for enrichment and leadership activities, as well as brainstorming breakout sessions between the two schools.
“We’ve gotten lots of great feedback,” Beaulieu said after the first week back to class at the year-round school. “It’s been an atmosphere change... we haven’t gone into content this week. They’ve spent time getting to know students this week.”
In the high school redesign process that occurred over the summer, Argent said the training was intentional.
“Having the ability to build relationships was one of the highest priorities,” he said. “Capturing Hearts was one of the best (programs) we could find.”
One of the ideas behind the relationship-building strategy is that students will treat each other like the teachers treat them. Another hope is that students will take ownership of the classroom culture.
“Instead of the teacher saying, ‘Here are the rules,’ the teacher builds a contract with student input,” said Shayne Mullins, lead secretary at Knightdale High, who attended the work session. “To me, that’s saying, ‘We care.’ It’s a heart thing ... which is what we want, and this gives us the tools.”
Argent added that after all the teachers undergo the training, the Knightdale staff will gather before school to discuss consistency and how to make sure each student is connected and challenged without skipping over students or duplicating activities.
Sixth-grade social studies teacher Tronita Williamson already saw a difference in her classroom last week.
“Having this week to get to know the kids has been surprisingly wonderful,” she wrote in an email to Beaulieu.
“Today as we shared some things we had a moment in my sixth period class and a few of us cried. I could feel the atmosphere change in the classroom. When we do get into the curriculum next week it will be with kids I know and not a class full of strangers.”