Hamtramck Academy tries ‘Capturing Kids’ Hearts’ to boost performance and cut discipline issues.

Hamtramck Academy tries ‘Capturing Kids’ Hearts’ to boost performance and cut discipline issues.

By Flippen Group

15 years ago



Marla McGhee greets Juan Torres and Calvin Anderson
as they arrive for class at Hamtramck Academy.
(Daniel Mears The Detroit News)

Bonding with kids at heart of program
Charter school tries ‘Capturing Kids’ Hearts’ to boost performance, cut discipline issues.

By Jennifer Mrozowski, The Detroit News

HAMTRAMCK — Marla McGhee stops each of her middle-schoolers before they enter her class at Hamtramck Academy, gives them a firm handshake, looks them in the eye and says, “Good morning.”

It’s a small gesture, but McGhee said it gives her a chance to connect with students and gain insight into how they’re feeling.

Hamtramck Academy implemented a program called “Capturing Kids’ Hearts” to build relationships among teachers and students in hopes of reducing discipline problems and improving achievement.

Less than a year into the program, staff and students say it’s working.

“We all know that love inspires,” McGhee said. “When kids know a teacher loves them, that inspires them, and they are more likely to do well.”

While it’s too soon to tell if the program is improving student achievement, the 455-student school is showing fewer disciplinary actions, said assistant principal Crystal Byse. Suspensions dropped from 125 around the same time last year to fewer than 50 this year. Byse credits much of that decrease to the new program.

The program was developed by College Station, Texas-based The Flippen Group, an educator training group. It requires a three-day training period for teachers at $495 a person, according to the company’s Web site.

The approach is multifaceted, starting with the handshake, which science teacher Charisse Youmans said allows her to gauge students’ mood through eye contact and facial gestures. That can clue her into problems, and she can diffuse some issues before they escalate, she said.

At the beginning of every class, students spend a few minutes sharing good things they want to discuss, which sets a positive mood and diminishes the need for whispering among classmates later, teachers said.

They also develop and sign social contracts, promising to be respectful, and everyone is involved in discipline. Teachers and students use hand gestures to notify a child who is misbehaving. The signs eliminate the need for disrupting a class, the teachers said.

Fifth-grader Deztyneh Townsend, 10, said she recently alerted her friend sixth-grader Kyra Allen, 11, to put down her pencil and listen to their teacher’s instructions.

“I think it helps,” Deztyneh said of the hand gestures. “It’s a way of keeping people doing what they’re supposed to be doing without being loud and disturbing other classmates.”

Sometimes, classmates get irritated when they are “checked,” she said, but Kyra wasn’t.

“It was a good thing,” Kyra said. “I knew I should be listening. I felt like thanking her for letting me know I should be listening.”

Linda Caine-Smith, principal of Linden Charter Academy in Flint, implemented the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program last school year. She said the program has helped reduce disciplinary problems.

“The bottom line is we clearly have less referrals to the office, because the expectations for what happens if you are misbehaving is clearer at the classroom level,” she said.

Flippen Group

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