Count on kindergartners to laugh in the face of a tech emergency. Jumping up for a spontaneous dance while grown-ups sorted out an uncooperative video player, 5- and 6-year-olds in Liz Gothard’s class made the point the whole day was about: They were great.
Celebrating inner greatness was Friday’s mantra at La Rosa Elementary in Ceres, culminating in assemblies to show a video of class projects on the subject. Every class had taken part, contributing poems, art projects and videos of students saying what made them great.
The younger kids said they shared toys, listened, helped clean up at home. Sixth-grader Eric Solis said his inner greatness was perseverance. Fourth-graders in Mary Shouse’s class wrote a song to the popular tune of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” switching it to “All About That Greatness.”
“We all sang it, many times,” Shouse said with a laugh. She likes the campaign’s message. “We see each other in a better way, instead of a negative way. It’s all about what we do well,” she said.
The greatness theme came from the Nurtured Heart Approach adopted districtwide by Ceres Unified but given special emphasis with full-time coordinators at La Rosa and Don Pedro elementary campuses.
“We realized if we asked our kids, ‘What makes you great? Tell me three things,’ they couldn’t do it,” Principal Lori Mariani said. “But if you asked them, ‘Tell me three things you’re not very good at,’ they could tell you. It shouldn’t be that way.”
Using a focus on “inner wealth” developed by Howard Glasser, the program strives to have students think of themselves in terms of what they do well: their “greatness.” Glasser plans to visit the campus, said coordinator Viviana Barajas. “Nobody is doing this like we are,” said Barajas. The kids call her “the greatness teacher.”
“We’re building resiliency against those outside factors going on. We call it getting grit,” Mariani said.
More than 80 percent of Ceres Unified’s students are poor, and an estimated 25 percent are homeless or living on borrowed floorspace. Those outside factors were much on the mind of community members, teachers and parents when deciding how to spend additional state dollars for high-needs students at budget planning hearings last year.
“The No. 1 priority was mental health and mental health awareness,” said Brian Murphy, whose position as head of student wellness came about as the district’s response to that need. Mental health support staff spend at least three days a week at every school, he said, working on behavior problems and bringing in specialists for more serious issues.
“It’s made a huge difference. Now we can serve the whole child,” Mariani said.
On Friday, those whole children giggled and squirmed on the cafeteria floor as – before the technical difficulties – their pictures flashed across the screen. “We’re here to celebrate what makes every student awesome,” Barajas, acting as emcee, told the kids.
The greatness campaign, she said afterward, “is an equalizer. It’s not about competition. It’s not about academics or being the strongest at sports. We all have that inner wealth.”
Giving a high-five to passing fourth-grader Rydwaan Alfareh, Barajas asked him about his greatness. Answering without a beat’s hesitation, Rydwaan said, “My great leadership. When things are going wrong and everybody’s going crazy, I tell them to calm down. When it’s calming down, we can actually get things done.”
“That’s self-regulating,” Barajas pointed out. “We never give up. We reset. We renew. We move on.”