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8/12/2014 11:06:00 AM
Williams Unified School District teachers and staff take part in Capturing Kids' Hearts training
Program designed to build connections between students and staff and create positive school climate
Omar De La Rosa works with Williams Unified School District teachers during a three-day training called Capturing Kidsí Hearts at Elephant Rocks Golf Course last week. Ryan Williams/WGCN
Omar De La Rosa works with Williams Unified School District teachers during a three-day training called Capturing Kidsí Hearts at Elephant Rocks Golf Course last week. Ryan Williams/WGCN
Williams Elementary School teacher Deniz Chavez enjoys the training. Ryan Williams/WGCN
Williams Elementary School teacher Deniz Chavez enjoys the training. Ryan Williams/WGCN

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - If you capture a child's heart, you have that child's head.

That's the idea behind a training that Williams Unified School District (WUSD) staff completed last week called Capturing Kids' Hearts. Schools in 44 states have participated in the program.

Through building positive relationships between teachers and students, schools will see higher performing classes and fewer discipline problems, according to Omar De La Rosa, who conducted the three-day training at Elephant Rocks Golf Course.

"Most school systems are focused a lot on the curriculum, curriculum, curriculum, which is fine. But what we say is if a teacher can't connect with a kid, if you cannot make what you're teaching relevant to kids, then they're not picking up on it nearly at the level that they need to," De La Rosa said. "What we're saying is that human element cannot be eliminated from the equation."

The Capturing Kids' Hearts program emphasizes learning students' names within the first few days of school, greeting them each time they enter the classroom and making them feel welcome.

The program also emphasizes establishing rapport with students and tying the subject matter into the student's interests. Communication is key to establishing positive relationships, according to the program.

"It's not just the words, it's your body language, it's your facial expressions, everything," De La Rosa said. "If the kid wants to be in your class and they like the teacher because they know the teacher cares for them, they're less likely to go off task, they're less likely to do bad things in classroom."

One of the main components of the program is developing social contracts within the classroom, which lays out how students want their teacher to treat them and how the teacher wants the students to treat him or her.

"We come to common ground and once we have that common ground we say, 'Okay, if we're going to behave this way and take care of each other this way, we have nothing to worry about in classroom,'" De La Rosa said. "It also builds an emotional and psychological safety for the kids."

Kindergarten teacher Louise Thibodeux is already planning ways to adapt the techniques to her younger students. She plans to create a social contract with them using pictures and have students sign it by leaving their handprint.

"I just feel like it's a fantastic opportunity to get these brand new kids and sort of acclimate them to this. It's going to be a whole different climate for the school," she said. "By the time they've gotten through my class the language will be familiar and we'll be able to build off of the concepts."

She also hopes to establish a positive climate so that "the kids (know) they can count on me, they want to be at school, they see it as a really fun exciting place to be rather than something that they just have to do."

High school English teacher Robin Gutshall said she was impressed and encouraged by the workshop.

"This is kind of like the glue," she said of the program. "If you don't have this you can test them and you can use all these instruments and it doesn't matter unless you let the kids know that, 'I care about you.' So it's everything. If you want them to behave and be respectful, it's like 90 percent of it I think."

Gutshall added that the workshop will be valuable outside of the classroom as well.

"Aside from just taking techniques back to the classroom, what (De La Rosa's) done for the whole staff is bring us together more, which is also essential, because if everybody's going in different directions, it's hard to expect the kids to unite and to be respectful," Gutshall said. "But he's also created a climate of respect among faculty members and that's huge to get adults to unite."

Administrators went through the Capturing Kids' Hearts program too in order to make teachers feel wanted and needed at the school.

"It's everybody, so it's a big team in the end," De La Rosa said. "We're all in it together and we're all going to take care of each other and here's how we're going to do it."

WUSD Superintendent Rachel Savage said in her opinion, the training is the best thing that has happened to the district in the five years she's worked there. The training cost the district $23,000.

"I feel like we have the right curriculum in place and we have the correct instructional resources in place and the last missing link to the chain of success is the relationships we have with each other," she said.

Savage added that the training has impacted her personally by causing her to reflect on how to better support district staff and teachers, who are the most important resource in the classroom.

"I'm pleased this training has brought to light the importance of treating each other with respect and professionalism," she said. "That positive behavior will rub off onto our students and we can serve as good role models and help break down the learning barriers that a lot of our kids come to school with and allow them to be able to open their mind to the instructional side of what we're trying to teach them."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Article comment by: Dosa Reality

Hey Ron - Maybe the administration should try firing and/or otherwise chasing off all the old, experienced teachers and bring in a whole new staff! Oh - wait, they've already done that over the past 3 years and the district has dropped from a B to a D grade. Errr - Perhaps someone new at the helm is in order to right this ship!

Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Article comment by: Ron Pauly

The teachers actually teaching would work for me.
I've had a hard time just getting the teachers to pay attention to whether kid's are even understanding the material being taught.

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