NORTH READING — Staff and students of the J. Turner Hood Elementary School told School Committee members about their culture of Safety, Responsibility, Respectfulness and Kindness, at their March 13 meeting, which was held at their school.

“As a school community we believe that ‘Hand in Hand Together We Can,’ Principal Dr. Glen McKay told the members. “We believe we can accomplish many goals if all members of the Hood School community remain cognizant of our theme and continue to work collaboratively in order to benefits out students.”

Kindness, defined as “the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate, shown through empathy, acceptance, kind gestures and thoughtfulness,” was added to the ideas that “first and foremost students must feel physically and emotionally safe to focus on learning; learning to be responsible for actions ensures accountability and fosters responsible decision-making, and students show respect by being considerate and honoring the feelings, opinions, and property of others.”

“We focused on Safety, Responsibility and Respectfulness since 2010, but with everything going on, we wanted to do a little more,” McKay explained of these expectations, but with a different bend to it. “We felt a need to incorporate kindness since it is a critical component of healthy socialization. Research has shown that when students are mindful of being kind to one another, they are more available to learn.”

It’s all part of the Massachusetts Tiered System of Supports to strengthen instruction in academic, behavioral, and social and emotional learning. “The current Hood schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports as well as schoolwide expectations will be updated as a means to reflect current research and school based practices. By the end of the 2023 school year a new updated behavioral support and expectation framework will be established and implemented in 100% of the grade-level classrooms,” according to McKay.

Students are recognized by their peers or staff members for their good behavior through the Pawsitive Program, reflective of the Hood Hound Dogs nickname used at the school. Pawsitive certificates are posted in the school and the names of recipients are read over the school’s public address system.

The broader standard was determined by a school community study group. Their goal was to “identify prioritize and support to the promotion of the learning and positive social, emotional, ethical and civic development of students; enhance engagement in teaching, learning and school-wide activities; address barriers to learning and teaching and re-engage those who have become disengaged and develop and sustain an appropriate operational infrastructure and capacity building mechanisms to support the improve well-being of all members of our school community.”

McKay described it as “a collaborative process in which people drive things done in school with a super-focus on a task they feel is important.”

There are also Learning Communities which are small groups of faculty and/or staff members who meet on a regular basis to identify new programs or topics to investigate, gather research and studies on new approaches, or implement and study the effectiveness of new practices and share these results with other faculty in the school. Teachers benefit from Learning Communities as they enable them to integrate new learning into their classroom practices, reduce professional and social isolation, address specific and relevant concerns and allow for in-depth learning over a period of time.

Logan and his owner presented award

An element of social and emotional learning in practice has been visits from Logan the Comfort Dog and his owner Jeff Borkowski during reading periods. “It combines two of my passions, teaching and a love of dogs,” Special Education teacher Karly Ronan said. “Seeing my own kids, nieces and others at the (Flint) library was moving. I went to Dr. McKay and told him I had a crazy idea. I could barely finish my sentence and he was giving me the green light. I’ve seen a huge change in some of our kids. They get so excited about Logan Day. They get so excited about reading.”

“Research shows the benefits in literacy and the social and emotional well-being of students who interact with a dog,” McKay picked up. “It’s made a difference. You can feel it.”

He also joked, “I pride myself in being visible in the school, but when Jeff and Logan are there, students don’t even notice me!”

The meeting also included some comments from students about how much they like Logan and reading with him around and a visit from Logan himself. “I feel excited to read all the time, but especially when Logan was there,” one student said.

Borkowski and Logan were also honored with An Award of Appreciation from the School Committee. 

Members of the school’s Student Council, all fifth graders, told School Committee members about their combined efforts with the NRHS Student Council to collect toiletries, snacks and hats as well as gloves and socks for the Lazarus House in Lawrence. Their goal was to have enough for 25 gift bags, but they ended up more than tripling their goal with 82 gift bags. 

“Good job,” School Committee chair Scott Buckley told the students. “It’s good to volunteer and give time to represent your school.”

Animals in Schools policy reading tabled

With the visit from Logan still in their minds, the School Committee was set to give a proposed Animals in School policy its official First Reading. That had been scheduled for March 2, but with little tangible information to go on the agenda the item was reclassified as an informal discussion.

At the March 13 meeting the members decided to table discussion until the Policy Subcommittee discusses the issue. As he had said previously, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Sean Killeen pointed out the need to define a comfort dog, like Logan, and a therapy dog, which is one used in more clinical settings. The two terms are often used interchangeably, as they had been at the meeting, but there are technical differences.