La Mesa nationally recognized for improving relationships, environment on campuses

(Left to right) La Mesa teachers Heidi Cota, Michela James, Nicole Arteaga and Alex Suarez welcome students to school. Photo courtesy of Michele Krantz.
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La Mesa Junior High School has been named a “Capturing Kids’ Hearts” National Showcase School Award recipient, William S. Hart Union High School District officials announced Monday.

The Flippen Group, which is behind the Capturing Kids’ Hearts organization, said the national award was given to La Mesa after school administrators successfully kickstarted an initiative to “transform the campus into an emotionally safe and relationally connected place for students, staff and parents.”

Teacher of the Year Kam Punpanichgul welcoming students Ashley Sandoval and Valery Hernandez to math class with a handshake. Photo courtesy of Michele Krantz.

“Our school has been trained in Capturing Kids’ Hearts processes — basically a way for staff and faculty to build better relationships with kids,” said La Mesa Principal Michele Krantz. “Basically, how we engage with students, explore the students’ needs, how we communicate (by being aware of words, body language and tone), how we empower them and how we launch them through affirmation.”

The award was given based on a visit from a Flippen site-visit team, which spoke with parents, teachers, students and faculty on the campus, said Krantz. Hundreds of schools from across the country were nominated for the 2018-19 award, and approximately 200 schools were named Capturing Kids’ Hearts National Showcase Schools.

A social contract from a classroom that lists the expectations, created by kids, of how people will interact with one another in class. Students and the teacher sign the contract, which hangs on the wall in the classroom. Photo courtesy of Michele Krantz.

Some of the things the organization’s visiting team saw included teachers greeting their students at the door with a handshake every day, allowing students to send “affirming” letters to one another and/or their teachers, and allowing students to create their classrooms’ social contract, Krantz said.

“Back in the old days, teachers would stand up in front of the classroom and say, ‘OK, here are my rules,’” she said. “But now, the students build the expectations on how they want to be treated by the teacher, how they’ll treat the teacher and how they’ll treat each other. And then they agree to the (the social contract) and they all sign it.”

The school principal said everyone handshaking and establishing strong connections with the adults on campus, as well as with their peers, creates a campus conducive to learning and professional development.

An affirmation wall in a classroom where students post affirmations to one another.
Photo courtesy of Michele Krantz.

“It creates a culture at the school that’s exceptionally positive, and they know their teacher loves them and their principal loves them,” she said. “You’ll work harder at a place you care about.”

And while other schools in the district were named this year as Distinguished Schools by the California Department of Education, La Mesa is proud to have been named the first and only Showcase School Award recipient in a district where a number of schools have adopted Capturing Kids’ Hearts processes.

“I think that it tells the story that there’s more to it than test scores, and we’re not just creating future mathematicians, English scholars and scientists,” said Krantz. “We’re creating human beings — the people we all want running the world one day.”

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