Jennifer Kahler, Assistant Principal of Glenallen Elementary School in North Port, Florida, has calmly entered the front office space of her school. Looking across the room, she politely acknowledges me and asks if I can ‘give her just a few more minutes?’ “Of course,” I say, and then she approaches the lovely woman at the front desk who I have been conversing with and gently speaks with her. Sadly, a gentleman who had been doing some maintenance work at their school the day before has passed away after an ambulance was called for him while he was there. Although they did not know him personally, they were personally involved, and it has affected them deeply as they respectfully share with me their shock and sadness for this man and his family. The resonance of unanticipated loss is real and fills the room as we are all instantly reminded of just how potent our human connection is, and how every moment counts.
I am here today on behalf of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) to speak with Mrs. Kahler about the actions she and her team are taking to enhance attendance at Glenallen. Given that every moment counts, their numbers are showing a marked improvement over the last 80 days, and SCGLR would like to commend them as well as understand why.
With the unexpected experience of deep connection still fresh in our minds and hearts from moments before, Mrs. Kahler welcomes me into her office and we review the collective strategies that are believed to be impacting their attendance success. She notes that utilizing every tool and resource is always colored by your approach: “It is incredibly important to find a way to connect with our children, and help them see that they matter. Our approach is simple: Do whatever it takes.”
Glenallen is experiencing positive results via attendance-based restorative circles, goal setting, regularly planned incentives, surprise incentives, and benchmark incentives such as 15 consecutive days of attendance. They also emphasize a strong focus on positive daily check-ins. Recognizing that it is human nature to ‘show up’ when we feel valued, Mrs. Kahler not only refers to the children as if they are all her own, but she is quick to point out, and continuously acknowledge, the leadership, commitment, intelligence, and compassion of the entire staff at Glenallen for caring about the personal circumstances of all of their students.
“It’s definitely a team effort. Having our own home/school liaison has been a game-changer for supporting our efforts. It has made it possible for us to utilize our guidance and social worker resources so much more effectively, connect with families, and help them overcome the barriers they are facing at any given time. We now have specific point people on campus for our children to connect with as they arrive every day, and it is making such a difference. The kids know they have to find their ‘special person’ to check-in with, and they can expect to hear their name as they are greeted with a smile, perhaps a few personal inquiries or compliments, and always a warm welcome. They respond to knowing there is someone at school who is waiting specifically for them and is genuinely excited to see them. Consistently. Every single day.”
As Mrs. Kahler continues, I recall how much I depended on the supportive connections I had with teachers and the years where my academic success literally hinged on Mrs. Clark’s words of encouragement and faith in me… School was where I went for connection.
“Our staff is just amazing,” notes Mrs. Kahler. “Beyond being great educators, they are just amazing people. Relationships are a huge part of our success. They truly care.”
It becomes clear that the approach at Glenallen is not subjective at all, but is rather an applied approach based on cause and effect. We all need to know we matter. It is a basic human need.