Sunday, April 14, 2024

North Warren Regional Reports Successful Start to Capturing Kids Hearts Program

Why NWR chose the Capturing Kids Hearts program. Photo by: C. Tamulonis, 11/2023.

The North Warren Regional School District board of education (BOE) met on November 14, 2023, in the school’s auditorium for their regular monthly meeting at 6 p.m. A detailed overview of the program “Capturing Kids Hearts” (CKH) was presented by Principal Carie Norcross-Murphy, special education teachers Stacey Fluri and Alyssa Wetzel, and Choral Director Jessica Koppinger.

According to their website, CKH is a training and coaching program that helps schools “implement transformational processes focused on social-emotional well-being, relationship-driven campus culture and student connectedness.”

Teachers and staff were trained in August before the school year began. Norcross-Murphy noted that there was overall support for the program from staff.

The core of the program is based on EXCEL, an acronym for engage, x-plore, communicate, empower, launch. One of the reasons for implementing the program was an increase in HIB cases and hate speech after the pandemic.

“We wanted to establish social norms for behavior. This is nothing new, but it’s a more conscientious effort,” said Norcross-Murphy. She said that every single NWR teacher started the school year off with a social contract for behavior with their students.

This allows the students to know what is expected of them by each teacher.

“And it’s working,” said Norcross-Murphy. “I had a student in the other day for a behavior issue and the first thing they said was ‘Are we going to go over the contract?’”

Teachers at North Warren are also starting their day on a more positive note to set up their students for a successful day. They greet students before they enter the classroom and engage with them by asking them to “tell them something good.” They are also giving more affirmations to students.

“Social-emotional learning is important,” said Norcross-Murphy. “So that when things get out of hand, everyone [student and teachers] can rely on each other [to do the right thing].”

“Good teachers are doing these things already,” added Norcross-Murphy. “You need students to feel safe in order to learn.”

Fluri presented the use of “four questions” to stop disruptive behavior and redirect students to focus. They are:

  1. What are you doing?
  2. What are you supposed to be doing?
  3. Are you doing it? Yes or no.
  4. What are you going to do about it?

“I use this at home on my husband and kids too,” Fluri quipped.

The teachers expressed their love of “brain breaks,” where they take students for quick walks outside or do other social-emotional exercises to get students back to a learning mindset.

“Class periods are 58 minutes long,” said Fluri. “That’s a long time to sit at a desk for a child. A 15-minute brain break is a great way to get them back in focus.”

Koppinger said that since implementing the program, her students have been kinder and more respectful when critiquing each other.

“I need the kids to work together to be kind,” she said. “Especially when criticism is involved [referring to the choral program].”

Koppinger noted it took some work to get the high schoolers on board with things like power claps, but it was well worth it.

“The middle schoolers ate it right up, but the high schoolers, some who are bigger than I am, took some convincing,” she said.

The program also empowers kids to take responsibility for their own behavior and foster self-managed classrooms. Koppinger said she has observed her students coaching peers who were being disruptive after their power clap which signals the start of the lesson.

“I didn’t have to intervene,” she said. “They got each other back on track.”

Wetzel said her students were excited about the program.

“I use the story, ‘Have You Filled a Bucket Today,’ by Carol McCloud to foster kindness.”

Wetzel also has a clear bucket in her classroom that students put pom poms in when they do an act of kindness as a visual reminder. She said it helped them set a goal for good behavior.

“Of course, it goes both ways, and sometimes we have to take a pom pom out.”

BOE member Dr. Mary Ann Boyd said she appreciated that a safe environment for kids to talk was being fostered and that it was important at this age.

“I am also appreciative that it is teaching face-to-face communication skills,” said Boyd. “It’s so important when today’s social media has corrupted that basic social interaction.”

Dutt thanked Norcross-Murphy and the teachers for their presentation and quoted professional educator Rita Pearson, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”

In her superintendent’s report, Dutt said the monthly superintendent cluster meetings were underway. Interdistrict curriculum meetings will also start meeting again in December and January. The interdistrict curriculum meetings, where teachers and administrators from each sending district discuss curriculum, programming and resources had not been active since before the pandemic. This year the team is focusing on English and math in the first session and social studies and science in the second.

“These are great opportunities for the teachers to work with one another for the benefit of the students,” said Dutt.

North Warren is hosting the first session in December.

Dutt also gave a shout-out to Mr. Ramos who sent volunteers to the school on November 10 to complete some much-needed painting projects.

In her principal’s report, Norcross-Murphy said that the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test was administered digitally for the first time and went smoothly. She also noted that the after-school tutoring program had begun. Two teachers will be available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the media center for any student who needs extra help or wants to get ahead. There is no sign-up required. Teachers in the program are certified in math, science, English, language arts, Spanish and social studies.

Norcross-Murphy also reported that the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) workshop held in October went well. NWR gave two successful presentations. Dutt, along with Clinton Township school board President Lana Brennan, Clinton Township Superintendent Dr. Melissa Stager and supervisor of the South Orange Maplewood school district Corrina Pariso, presented “Being A Growth Leader: Empowering your Leadership and Staff.”

Dutt, Norcross-Murphy, and NWR school board member Dr. Kevin Brennan also gave a presentation called “Lead by Design: The Power of a Unified Vision and Goals.” The workshop highlighted the many changes that NWR has been implementing to move towards a supportive and collaborative team culture. The NJSBA invited Dutt back to give a full three-hour presentation on leadership as a result.

Other business included the BOE recognizing Veterans Day, including the military service of the following staff members: Nicholas Arbolino, Robert Cooper, Larry Gregan, Sarina Roman and Jerry Ugrina. The board also recognized the “sacrifice of the military service of its staff, students and community and thanked them for their dedication and service to our country.”

Boyd gave her report on policy updates. A lengthy list of revised and abolished policies can be found in the minutes of the November 14 meeting here.

The next NWR BOE meeting will be on December 11 at 6 p.m. in the school auditorium. Please see the North Warren Regional website for details and the agenda.

Cybele Tamulonis
Cybele Tamulonis, Contributing Writer

Cybele is a writer and editor with more than 16 years in the publishing industry. An avid reader, you can usually find her with the latest new book release from the local library. She currently resides on a farm in Hardwick with her husband and four children. In her spare time, she writes historical fiction specific to New Jersey.