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Don Pedro School campaigns for greatness
Don pedro happy
Don Pedro Elementary School students Joel Fuerte Cruz and Jaylynn Wheeler sang with their classmates Friday morning at an assembly designed to show the greatness of each others unique abilities.

It's an experiment of sorts.

Don Pedro Elementary School staff members are trying to bring out the best in students by focusing on the positives, not the negatives.

According to Principal Rick Hall, it's working.

"It's like a slow-moving wheel but we've seen positive results from it," said Hall. "We have anecdotal stories from a variety of staff members. If you give an authentic compliment to one student, they all want to copy that behavior."

The program is based on the "Nurtured Heart Approach" which he said is "an agent for cultural change for schools and very positive." The concept that was developed by William Glasser to address the needs of students with ADHD who are in constant need of redirection also works on all students. In a nutshell, the staff tries to recognize what kids do well, not just what they do wrong.

"We tend to focus on what we don't want or don't like and we call students out on it," said Hall. "Well, this approach is designed to also get us to also call students out for doing what we do expect. It can be as simples as, ‘Juan, I see you sitting there patiently quiet and ready to work with your pencil out. That shows me that you're a responsible learner; that shows me you are a serious student.' So you give them these value statements. It's about depositing into the kids these values so they get to know that they have positive attributes that we ordinarily just take for granted."

Hall said students will try to get attention from adults in their lives "however they can," sometimes doing through negative behavior. Hall said the Don Pedro staff tries to ignore bad behavior - unless it rises to the level of needing to be addressed - and tries to respond to better behavior.

The staff tried to steer clear of praising intellect but focusing on character traits that usually go about unnoticed.

"We're not used to getting positive comments about ourselves."

The greatness program was implemented last year at Don Pedro, supported through a grant from the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children/Center for Human Services that helps support two staff members "to build that positive culture," said Hall. The agency also supports a similar greatness program at La Rosa Elementary School.

To highlight the "greatness" of students, the entire school engaged in projects featuring the positives of themselves or others. Those projects were highlighted in videos shown during a school assembly on Friday morning.

"You all did a lot of hard work," Hall told his students. "There was not one identical project across the whole school. Each project was unique to all of you and your teacher."

He added that the judges were brought to tears "because they loved the true emotion, the genuineness of what you're saying about one another, the greatness within yourself and the greatness within your classmates and especially the greatness that you're able to share when you're asked a question about your teacher and your teacher's greatness."

Hall said that the program's approach is not fail proof, saying, "you still have the two percent of the population you're constantly going to be dealing with and we have other resources for them. We have social skills training, counseling and that kind of stuff."

The principal feels that his program dovetails with the "Choose Civility" initiative prompted in 2010 by County Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon. Changnon and numerous leaders chose 12 principles - found in P.M. Forni's book, "Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct" - on which to focus.