“Behave with Care is essential in our purpose of transforming scholars’ lives,” Glass said. “The true intention and purpose of Behave with Care is rooted in the concept of engagement, created with high expectations and high levels of care. From utilizing individual skills to the full implementation of building-wide processes, the intent of Behave with Care is to foster and develop authentic engagement among all members of the school community.”
The Behave with Care philosophy has four components: culture, structure, classroom management, and accountability. Each of these components helps NHA school staff members provide a unique education in a caring atmosphere. True behave with care practices engage others socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically.
Benjamin Kriesch, in his ninth year as principal plus 10 years in other positions at Paragon Charter Academy, also believes the Behave with Care philosophy is one of the reasons NHA is unique.
“I believe structure is important to students. If all classes use the same types of structure, then students know what to expect as they progress through grade school. It has a commonality to it – common routines, procedures, language, all those things that are really important,” Kriesch said.
One item that is a bit distinctive to Paragon Charter Academy is Kriesch’s philosophy on technology, that the answer to student learning and growth isn’t always rooted in giving them more technology.
“Kids need hands-on activities,” he said. “They need collaboration. They need one another. I think when you isolate kids, even with the best of intentions, you’re not thinking about this whole swath of research that shows kids should not be at a young age in front of a screen for more than two hours.
“I like to use the phrase conscious consumption and knowing that students will watch screens after school hours. I ask teachers to limit screen time to 60 minutes or less with high-quality educational activities only for our kindergarteners to fifth graders, and no more than 90 minutes for our older scholars. It's just developmentally inappropriate for a child. It wires their brain in a way that’s not intended for their brain to be wired. That level of stimulus is not realistic to real life.”
Less use of technology is one of the reasons Kriesch started a hands-on science class. The class helps scholars learn problem-solving skills and the soft skills of communicating with one another through project-based learning.
“Behave with Care focuses on positive behaviors, and the good routines and procedures that we want to see,” Kriesch said. “It’s tempting, at times, to focus on the negatives, but we really just want to focus, articulate, and reward the positives! That is the Behave with Care philosophy.”
NHA offers a lot of support to its teachers. Kriesch feels one of the most important is the NHA model of having a dean supervising grade level groups, where there is one for lower elementary, upper elementary, middle school, and intervention and special education.
“Teachers have an opportunity to meet weekly with their dean. To have a manager directly in contact on a weekly basis is typical at NHA but not at other schools,” Kriesch said. “The dean provides support, encouragement, and advice. They can talk through issues or problems and develop a plan together. It creates a good collaborative atmosphere, and it benefits the students.”
Another strong support for educators in NHA schools is achievement and behavior support specialists.
“When scholars have negative behaviors, which are real and as they are occurring, there’s support for the teachers,” Kriesch said. “They don’t just have to deal with it, they have the achievement and behavior support specialists to help with the student. Also, they have a school social worker. They have a dean. They have a principal. So, all these layers of support, I think are really unique and support teachers’ growth and development. And it creates a lot of good consistencies and interactions for those students, so there’s naturally positive connection points.”
Glass, who spends much of her workday educating and training the Behave with Care philosophy, has a final thought.
“As a society, we all need a bit more of a Behave with Care attitude,” Glass said. “It’s about being kind. People flourish when they’re in an environment where they are cared for with clear expectations.”
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Paragon Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Jackson, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 99 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.
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