Plenty of schools talk about the students and staff as being a family, but Grandview Elementary School takes it to an even deeper level. When students start out at the school in El Dorado, Kansas, they are assigned to a “gator family” of 12 students from all different grades and one gator mom or dad. This group will be their family throughout their time at the school.
Once a month, the older students in the family go around the building collecting the younger ones for a family meeting. At that meeting, they will play games, do art projects and share lessons from the school’s Choose To Be Nice program.
“The students really value the connections they make in their gator families,” said Principal Susan Holthaus. “This is a way for them to come together and make special connections across grades.”
By adding in the Choose To Be Nice program, they are able to help each other learn the important concepts of improving their interactions with each other and others.
The family meetings were disrupted this year when the school moved to remote learning opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its need for social distancing. The school needed to develop new ways to stay in touch with students and their families, but the commitment to the students’ social and emotional learning remains strong.
When they can attend their meetings, students focus on one of the nine Choose To Be Nice values that help them think about their choices in how they treat others. Those values are respect, kindness, acceptance, teamwork, honesty, responsibility, friendship, patience, and courage.
Talking about the values and how to put them into action helps to foster positive interactions among grade levels and promotes unity across the school of 285 students.
“They get to build these strong, lasting relationships that can support all of what we’re working on here,” Holthaus said.
Holthaus learned about the program at a trade show. As soon as she heard about it, she was eager to bring it to her school. The Parent Teacher Organization made it possible by providing funding.
“I love how simple it is,” Holthaus said. “We have all these complex programs thrown at us, but there was this program that was easy to understand and easy to implement.”
Significantly, she said, the program provides a common language that can be used throughout the school.
“Now, I can talk to students about their actions in a way that helps them understand their options,” she explained.
At the beginning of the year, the school held a rally and students signed a Choose To Be Nice Promise Banner. Parents were also invited to sign during the October open house.
That banner was hung in the hallway as an ongoing reminder. On either side, there are photos of the gator families to reinforce the commitment to the message.
The banner seems to work, since behavior referrals have been down since it was hung.
“It’s easy, when we’re in the hallway, to just point to the banner,” Holthaus said. “It’s a way to get them to think about their actions and to realize that they have a choice.”
The fifth graders help to reinforce the message by reminding students about the value of the month during the morning announcements. They have a new quote about the value every day of the month.
There are also special projects for the whole school throughout the year such as a bulletin board featuring “sweethearts.” Students were encouraged to fill the board with colorful hearts that had messages about the values. Many of them linked the ideas together.
“Patience is showing kindness even when it’s hard.”
“Kindness is being nice to others.”
“Friendship is accepting someone.”
“We really can see how this is having an impact,” Holthaus said. “The students are coming to understand how it all works together and that makes a difference.”
Interested in becoming a Choose To Be Nice School?