By RANDY TATANO
Special to Atmore News
If you’re the parent of an Escambia County school student and ask, “How was school today?” you don’t expect to hear this as an answer.
“I signed a new contract.”
No, your kids haven’t committed to play football at Alabama or Auburn, and they’re not buying a car. That contract is part of a new program called “Capturing Kids’ Hearts” which is designed to improve the relationships between students and teachers while making school a place where children can feel more secure and involved.
Teachers spent two days training after Christmas break, learning new skills on how to respond to students and better ways to run a classroom. They were divided into groups that included teachers from other schools in the system, many of whom they’d never met. That was designed to create the teamwork which is the main goal of Escambia County Schools new slogan, “We are one.”
Elementary School Curriculum Supervisor Nicole Spottswood said the program, “Gives kids ownership. What do they want in the classroom?”
The contract is mostly a social one, with students coming up with their own ideas and agreeing to things like “be helpful,” “use manners,” and “participate.” If a child strays from the rules of the contract, the teacher simply points it out.
JoLynn Godwin, a veteran teacher at Rachel Patterson Elementary, gives the program rave reviews, and really enjoyed working with teachers from other schools.
“It really promotes us as one unit,” she said. “That was the best thing I’ve ever participated in.” She notes that for some children, a smile and cheerful greeting from the teacher as they arrive in the morning can put them in a positive mood and create higher self-esteem.
“It made me think about how I use my words in the classroom, Godwin said. “Some kids have a lot going on at home, they have issues. So it’s important how you start your day. Your greeting must be positive.”
Godwin says she’s really seen a difference in the students, as the “no putdowns” part of the contract in her classroom has cut down on bullying.
W.S. Neal High School football coach Brandon Wilcox said the program is already paying dividends with his players.
“You can see a difference in the buy-in from our students when they know they are an active participant in the decision-making process and implementation of the standards of our program,” he said. “Moving forward I can see Capturing Kids Hearts play a major role in how I continue to build long and lasting relationships with the young men I coach.”
Pollard McCall Junior High Teacher’s Aide Mandee Chavers feels the program has already made a huge difference.
“My two days spent in training were eye opening,” she said. “Getting to the core of it, our students need to feel heard, respected and loved. Just as much as we need to feel those things in our daily lives. We are with these children eight hours a day. We need them at their best, just as much as they need us to be at ours. Capturing Kids Hearts provided those tools to do so.” Students also have a “random act of kindness” wall to share good deeds like reading to the kindergarten class or helping another student in need. Chavers is especially impressed with the one thing students have added to every contract. “Every single one has the word RESPECT … how awesome is that?”
Capturing Kids’ Hearts is a national program founded by Flip Flippen, who credits his second- grade teacher with inspiring him to help teachers. He says, “If you capture a child’s heart, you have a child’s mind.”
Brewton resident Randy Tatano is a veteran TV news reporter and network producer, and is currently a novelist and freelance writer for the Escambia County School System.