By Mike Marsee
A van pulls up to the home of an elementary school student in Radcliff and the principal pops out.
It’s another visit by the Care-A-Van, an initiative of Meadow View Elementary School (Hardin County). The Care-A-Van calls on a select few students as a way of celebrating those who are setting a good example for their classmates.
“We concentrate so much on behavior and discipline problems, and this year we decided we also want to concentrate on those kids who are trying to do the right things,” Meadow View Principal Althea Hurt said.
Hurt and other Meadow View administrators and teachers have made two runs in the Care-A-Van – actually a series of three vans – and will likely go out once more before the end of the school year.
Each stop looks like a scene from the Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol – on a significantly smaller scale, of course. The surprised student is feted with a certificate, a bunch of balloons, some small prizes from the school and a handful of coupons offering free food items at local restaurants. A congratulatory proclamation is read and after 10 minutes or so, the Care-A-Van moves on to the next honoree.
The idea came to Hurt after she attended a session on community involvement and celebrating students at a conference last summer. She said it wasn’t hard to sell the idea to her staff.
“It was extremely easy, I think, because of how I presented it to them,” she said.
She used the Prize Patrol illustration, and she said it would be the perfect way to recognize students who follow the school’s motto, “Positive, prepared, productive.”
The honorees are chosen through a nomination process open to every staff member at the school, and teachers and staff members may nominate students for any reason. Some students have been recognized for things such as working to help their teachers or classmates, being a leader and maintaining a positive attitude.
“It’s not just academic. We ask, ‘What have they done to go above and beyond? How have they exemplified being a model Trojan?’” Hurt said, referring to the school mascot.
Nine students have been honored on each Care-A-Van day. One is chosen from each grade, and four other students are chosen who could be in any grade.
Kim Durrance, a 3rd-grade teacher who is in her 24th year at the school, said saluting those students is a worthwhile endeavor.
“We recognize the ones who are always doing well or talk to the ones who aren’t doing well,” Durrance said. “It’s a neat thing to be able to go to some of these students that don’t always get recognized.”
On the day of the Care-A-Van, Hurt, the assistant principal, the family resource center director, the counselor and a handful of teachers hit the road. When the assignments are handed out, Hurt tries to make sure that each student is visited by the person who nominated him or her.
“They prepare the parents ahead of time to make sure they’ll be home, but when we come in, the students are never expecting it,” Durrance said. “It’s cool to see their face. One of them was so excited she just grabbed her stuff and ran back inside the house.”
“The reactions have ranged from tears to, ‘Oh, my God!’” Hurt said. “They’re shocked.”
Hurt said the teachers are getting almost as much out of the visits as their students.
“They love it. One of the teachers told me this was her favorite day,” she said.
Durrance said the Care-A-Van also has been good for the school.
“It’s been a good way to pull in more community and parent support. We have a low percentage of parent support,” she said.
Robin Hebert, director of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Division of Next Generation Professionals, said Hurt’s initiative is a good example of a principal taking steps to improve her school.
“KDE realizes the important role that principals play in creating a positive school culture where students have every opportunity to succeed. That includes doing what they can with what they have to create the right working and learning conditions where teachers and students flourish,” Hebert said. “KDE is investing in Kentucky’s principals through the Principal Partnership Project so that more and more of them are willing to innovate and think outside the box to promote students’ success as Ms. Hurt has done. Finding ways to engage parents and the community in meaningful and important school efforts is a double bonus.”
Hurt said the second round of Care-A-Van visits was better than the first both in terms of organization and presentation. Durrance had the idea of obtaining magnetic signs and affixing them to the vans, which a local auto rental office volunteered to provide, along with the balloons. One of the vans was even displayed in front of the school on the day of the visits.
“It caught on so well that businesses started coming to me, asking me if they could help us, if they could sponsor us,” Hurt said.
Now that the word is out about the Care-A-Van, parents are asking what they can do.
“Parents come to me and say, ‘What does my child need to be doing? I want somebody to come to my house,’” Hurt said.
Hurt said the Care-A-Van is just one of a number of ways in which the school is celebrating its students. Durrance said she can see some positive results from those efforts.
“Most definitely,” she said. “I sure hope we instill in students that they need to have that pride in where they go to school, in coming to school, and that they should enjoy learning.”
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