Deb Malweski

Contributing Writer

It’s been very tough to be a teacher, a school administer, or a student since the pandemic hit. Which makes being recognized for your special efforts at developing strong relationships with your students and their families even more special.
This is exactly what happened recently at Potterville Elementary School. The school was selected as a finalist National Showcase School through Capturing Kids’ Hearts, a program used in the school that focuses on building strong relationships that lead to success within school and beyond.
Only 339 schools were selected as finalists from the thousands of schools across the nation that use the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program, and only ten districts in Michigan share this accomplishment. The nominations were based on a survey and from the school’s performance data. The final awardees, who will be deemed “National Showcase Schools,” will be announced in April.
“This is only the second year we have used the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program,” said Potterville School Superintendent Kevin Robydek, “and it represents the dedication seen from the teachers, the staff, and the administration of Potterville Elementary.”
“Capturing Kids’ Hearts is one of the key components used at Potterville to help the district to continually work towards maintaining a positive learning environment for students and staff,” explained Robydek.
“The program establishes a framework to help set up relationships between adults and youth, and helps those involved to deal with conflict,” explained Patrick O’Rourke, principal of Potterville Elementary School.
“Students are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors and succeed academically when they feel connected to school,” according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). “Research has shown that young people who feel connected to their school are less likely to engage in many risk behaviors, including early sexual initiation, alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use, and violence and gang involvement.”
“It’s an awesome program and it really shows what teachers and staff do to support our kids where they need it most,” O’Rourke explained. “It’s heavily focused on relationships and bringing out the best in people.”
There are five components to the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program, O’Rourke explained. They are encouraged to engage (students are personally greeted each morning), explore (an opportunity to interact with others and share what’s going well in their life), communicate (engage in a dialogue between teacher and student), empower (teach students to self-manage and problem solve) and launch—closing each day with a positive thought, with a goal of providing hope for the future.
Each classroom has a social contract that all the students sign, he added; a list of words that establish guidelines and expectations for how students and teachers will treat each other.  Words like “effort,” and “active listening” are on the list, with no put-downs. The contract helps build relationships and helps the students hold each other responsible.
“The award shows that our staff’s work has not gone unnoticed and is a testament to how they stepped up to support our kids,” said O’Rourke. “I’ve seen staff go to students’ homes to help with their computer or to set up interventions. They’ve truly gone above and beyond.”
“The Capturing Kids’ Hearts program was a huge part of us being able to support our staff and students through the COVID-19 event,” O’Rourke said. “We have each other’s backs, and all were willing to help. It made a big difference in being able to cope with COVID-19, and made it all just a little bit easier.”
The 20-21 school year started in full remote. Schedule changes were made over the year. Now, starting April 19, all students who are coming to school face-to-face will attend Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, with Wednesday as a virtual day.
For more information about Potterville Schools or the Capturing Kid’s Hearts program, call the school at 517-645-4705.