Students leave for summer through tunnel of hope
Teachers and other members of a Parkland elementary school community sent more than 400 students off to summer vacation Wednesday through a tunnel of hope.
The grown-ups formed an archway at the door of Christensen Elementary School, using colorful foam swimming pool noodles.
Read! Read! Read! one woman shouted as the kids headed off for the summer.
Children smiled and exchanged high-fives with adults. Americorps volunteer Lisa Pustell, a recent graduate from the University of Iowa, gave more than one kid a tearful hug good-bye.
The tunnel on the last day is just one way the school in the Franklin Pierce School District tries to wrap kids in a cocoon of support through a strategy called Kids at Hope. It originated in Phoenix in 1993 and is now used by schools and youth organizations around the country, including on campuses in Lakewood and Tacoma.
I didnt understand it completely at first, said Pustell, who arrived at Christensen in the fall. I cant really sum it up. But it is necessary at a school where a lot of kids come from tough situations.
At Christensen, she explained, every adult truly does believe every kid can be successful.
Sounds simple. But when faced with a kid who walks in on his first day and repeatedly bangs his head on his desk, the way teacher Elena Lindquist was well, maybe its not so simple.
She said her principal, Tim Enfield, helped her approach the boy with a positive attitude.
One strategy Christensen employs is called a buddy room. It lets kids take a break from their home classroom and move temporarily to another teachers room. There, they complete a think sheet that asks them to reflect on what went wrong in their home room and how they can fix it.
Lindquists student spent some time in a buddy room.
We kept bringing him in, not sending him away, Enfield said. We told him, You belong here.
After a while, the boy was able to settle in and learn, Lindquist said.
Teachers and others at Christensen say Kids at Hope isnt a program, but rather a way of thinking about and believing in kids. It enlists parents help, calling them their childs Ace of Hearts.
Enfield, Christensen principal for 10 years, said that since his school began using Kids at Hope methods four years ago, discipline episodes have plummeted.
He said the school used to suspend 20 or more kids a year. This year, there were no suspensions.
Kids can be successful when they are surrounded by adults who believe they can succeed, he said.
Waiting outside the tunnel of hope Wednesday was Connie Demers. She was watching for her granddaughter, Aiden McFarlane, who had just completed kindergarten. Demers said shes sorry Aiden will be leaving the school after just one year; her dad is being transferred to Idaho.
She said the Christensen community is a close one, where teachers and kids approach learning with spirit.
Its a fantastic school, she firstname.lastname@example.org