Inspring Hope for the Future

Inspring Hope for the Future

National program works locally to encourage area children to succeed.

Every day during a morning announcement before class begins at Clearview Elementary School in Herndon, the children read off two pledges — one to their country and the other to themselves.

Since the beginning of the school year, Clearview Elementary has been incorporating the training provided to them by Kids at Hope Herndon, a local branch of a national non-profit agency that aims to reinforce good teaching habits by reminding school faculty of the importance of encouragement, praise and positive attitudes in education. The reciting of the Kids at Hope pledge is one of the methods used to remind the students that they are capable of success on a daily basis.

"It’s interesting because there really can be an argument made that by saying the pledge every day, it’s not just verbatim," said Chris Lazun, assistant principal of Clearview Elementary School. "It really is registering."

After implementing the Kids at Hope practices, Lazun has seen his suspension and other discipline rates down from the previous years and students more engaged in their studies, he said.

"It starts with their attitude and it starts with kids realizing that they can trust their teachers," he said. "By beginning there, I think we give the kids these opportunities for success everyday."

THE PROGRAM WAS first discovered by then Herndon Parks and Recreation Department director Art Anselene — now interim town manager — who brought it to the attention of community members who worked with children. He felt it would be an important addition to the community, according to Catherine Pressler, the leading volunteer field consultant for Kids at Hope Herndon.

Since community members and volunteers from the Herndon-born non-profit organization Vecinos Unidos accepted the grant to undergo training at the group’s national headquarters in Phoenix, Ariz., at the beginning of 2006, the organization has, in way or another, worked with nearly every elementary and middle school in the Herndon area, Pressler said.

Part of a nationwide initiative called "Hope Square" by Kids at Hope, Herndon was one of the first four branch communities accepted for the program, which eventually hopes to establish similar programs to train people in 15 total communities throughout the country, according to Rick Miller, founder and "chief treasure hunter" of Kids at Hope.

"By getting more of these people aware of these programs through this concept we think that we’ll really be able to see a big change in the communities as a whole," said Miller. "It creates a huge prospective and philosophical shift in working with children."

Anselene could not be reached for comment.

The group of volunteers runs the training sessions, which range from one to three hours in length, for community members and organizations that work with children to reinforce positive teaching methods, said Pressler. The training can oftentimes be school-wide, with everyone, all the way to the cafeteria staff, learning the Kids at Hope mantra.

Those methods include positive reinforcement of good behavior, identifying strong points of individual students and encouraging their development and keeping children thinking about what they hope to accomplish as they grow older, Pressler said.

The results, she said, are noticeable after only a few months.

Students "start seeing themselves not just in reflection of the subjects they study, but who they are and what they want to be in the future," Pressler said. "Some children might not be as good at certain things, but stronger in other areas, and it’s important to identifying those individual strengths."

THE WORK of Kids at Hope Herndon has not gone unnoticed in the community. Last week, the Herndon Town Council voted unanimously to increase its local annual budgeted grant from $1,000 last year to $5,000 this year — double the original staff proposal.

"We think [the town staff and council] understand us and they recognize what we do for the community," said Pressler, who noted that Mayor Steve DeBenedittis and other council members attended a Kids at Hope training session last November. "They’re very supportive of the atmosphere we help create; you just can’t lose when you bring this kind of training to the town."

As the organization now has its inaugural year under its belt, it hopes to develop further-reaching capacities, Pressler said. While their early work had focused on the Herndon area’s elementary and middle schools, Kids at Hope Herndon has begun to expand to connect with other groups such as local troops of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America and Reston Interfaith, she added. Eventually, they will look to establish regular programs for parents.

And there are no limits based on the cultural, economic or educational background of the students it hopes to reach out to during that expansion, according to Pressler.

"It doesn’t matter what the demography is, they need to have this drive for success," she said. "And that’s applicable for all children."

But it is important to note that the training is nothing new, only a way of injecting daily reminders for students and children, Pressler said.

"I kind of compare it with washing your hands," she said. "Since the 19th century, we know that in order to stop the spread of disease, you have to wash your hands, and it took constant reminders for us to learn to do that."

"It’s helpful to have that reminder for working with children as well."