Kindness and respect illuminate the hallways and classrooms at Oliver E. Clift and Marvin Elementary schools. After incorporating the program, Capturing Kids Hearts, there’s been a peak in student morale and activities.

Out of all elementary schools in Waxahachie ISD, Clift Elementary has the second-highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students at 71.1 percent. Marvin Elementary School has the highest, just a few ticks above at 71.5, according to the Texas Academic Performance Report (TAPR) for the 2016-17 academic year.

Since the implementation of Capturing Kids Hearts, Clift Elementary principal Christi Kubin said there have been groundbreaking differences in students’ behavior. She stated the most noticeable and significant change involved discipline.

Kubin said, in the past, she would see about four to five referrals for violent behavior by this time of year on average.

“Due to our population, we’ve had to send students to DAP, district alternative placement, where they would have to go to another campus and sit all day. We have not had one referral this year,” Kubin explained.

Even though the school has an abundance of economically disadvantaged students, the faculty is continuously adhering to the emotional needs of the child.

“All kids have emotional needs,” Kubin said. “We want to be there to not only give the education the kids need but also give what they need emotionally to go out in society and make good choices and be a productive citizen.”

At the end of the year, faculty and families in the district fill out surveys to create a campus improvement plan. At both Clift and Marvin, the focus was on building relationships, accepting others ideas and building on communication.

In response to those needs, Shelle Blaylock, assistant superintendent of leadership and academics for WISD, saw Capturing Kids Hearts as the answer.

The program was implemented in the past for about ten years, but as program administrators left and teachers dissipated, so did the program. After its reinstatement, the once foundational aspect of the WISD core teaching system has proven once again to be proactive.

“If you’ve ever been in that building previously, you’ll notice that students approach conversations among themselves and with adults differently,” Blaylock said. “It’s a very empowering program and that students are expected to learn how to voice their opinion appropriately and gives them structure.”

Blaylock explained the, while yes, the program does cost the district, it provides tools to teachers and students that will last a lifetime if utilized. If the funds are available, Blaylock’s goal is to implement Capturing Kids Hearts across the district.

Before Capturing Kids Hearts was embedded into the school, teachers were already doing their part in participating in their students’ lives outside of school. For instance, some teachers were already taking students to get ice cream and to the plays at Waxahachie High School in an attempt to connect on a level outside of the day-to-day mundane.

But now, with the program, all of the teachers and staff are on board with the ideas behind Capturing Kids Hearts. Basically, teachers have reconstructed their day by adding encouraging and uplifting exercises.

There are simple components to the program as well that come more natural, like a handshake and sharing a smile. The program also teaches student-to-student awareness and accountability. During an assembly, the students were taught the premise of the program along with different hand signs they can use to communicate.

One program that came out of Capturing Kids Hearts is “Books, Braids and Bowties.” This activity is hosted every Tuesday and Thursday morning from 7:15 — 7:40 a.m. in the library.

During this time, teachers help students with styling their hair, along with a few finishing touches complete with a spritz of cologne or perfume. There are even bowties available for those who wish to be a little extra spiffy for the day.

The experience gives the students the confidence and further attention in the morning. While the students are being styled for the day, they are reading as well.

Emily Allen, the school’s library aid, gives words of encouragement so students can start the day on the right foot.

“I think it helps them be able to read out loud to somebody and maybe since it’s in the morning it also helps them wake up,” Allen said.

First-grade teacher Gwenean Morton said the program is a positive way for the kids, as well as herself, to start the day. She is able to bond with students on a different level since they usually only interact with Morton in the classroom. This opportunity allows the faculty to get to know their students on a personal level.

“When they come in, they know we care about them,” Morton said.

In the library, teachers encourage students with their classwork and projects. In the back of the room is also a table where students can meet with a teacher for tutorials and homework help before classes begin.

Books, Braids and Bowties stemmed from the Capturing Kids Hearts program shortly after its implementation in August 2017. Two first-grade teachers, Mandy Allen and Haley Gilmore, developed the activity after seeing a similar idea on Facebook.

“We thought a program like this could not only help students get extra practice reading but encourage students to read and build relationships with them while doing so,” Mandy said.

"This program, we feel, has also been beneficial in boosting students mood and confidence in the morning before going to class,” Mandy added. “I also feel as though this program has helped many teachers who volunteer branch out and get to know students all over the building, and not just in their own classrooms.”