News & Events

May 6, 2022

Capturing Kids’ Hearts fosters youth potential at Keweenaw schools

The Portage Health Foundation (PHF)'s annual report from Fiscal Year 2020 was recently released. Over the coming weeks a series of feature articles from the publication will be posted on the PHF website. You can see a PDF of the full report at phfgive.org/transparency. This article was written by Jesse Wiederhold. If you'd like a copy of this report mailed to you, email communications@phfgive.org

Kids across the Copper Country have been given tools to become well-mannered, perceptive young adults. They’re smiling, laughing and most importantly — caring for one another. These students, as well as their teachers and staff, are putting in time and effort to become their best selves. This is how the Capturing Kid’s Hearts (CKH) program can improve the way a school works for its students.

Newly appointed Copper Country Intermediate School District (CCISD) Superintendent Jim Rautiola said the biggest change he’s seen since implementing CKH was the way his students, staff and faculty speak to each other.

“Our intent is usually in the right spot,” said Rautiola. “But, if we all are on the same page and we’re speaking the same language, there’s no misconception on the direction of the conversation.” Rautiola said this applies to discipline as well. He knows first hand as he led the implementation during the 2020-21 school year at Stanton Township Schools, where he served as superintendent before accepting the CCISD position in summer 2021. CKH gives educators, students and administrators better tools to mitigate conflicts as they arise.

Capturing Kids Hearts“It would get to the point where a kid might have a problem with another student and it would get brought up in my office,” said Rautiola. “Before even coming into the office, the anxiety level was lower. They knew exactly what the process was going to look like.” Rautiola said instead of telling kids what they’ve done wrong when they come to his office, the CKH discipline model focuses on asking them. “It was pretty cool,” said Rautiola. “They would essentially just run through what I was going to ask them.”

Letting the students own up to their own mistake is one thing. However, that’s just the beginning for CKH schools.

“They spend a couple of minutes there, and they would tell you what they were going to do to resolve the situation,” said Rautiola. After the resolution is agreed upon, he checks in with the students throughout the remainder of the day. And most of the time, Rautiola said his students have made amends and moved on. 

“Let’s take the ownership piece here and let’s make an unpleasant situation a situation we can actually learn from,” concluded Rautiola. CKH helps with discipline from an administrator perspective, but it is important to note that most of the program deploys in the classroom.

Ontonagon Area School District 5th Grade Teacher Hillary Sundblad said she began CKH training just before the 2020- 2021 school year. She said it improved her days and her students’ days dramatically. Students in Ontonagon got to first experience CKH through one of its most common facets – a classroom social contract.

“You have the kids come up with things that they expect of you as a teacher,” said Sundblad. “Then the students come up with things that the teacher might expect of them, and you write them all down.” Sundblad said this helps the kids feel like they are setting their own rules. This, in turn, makes for more of an incentive to meet those expectations that are set. Sundblad said after finishing the list, it’s hung up to be on display for the class throughout the school year.

CKH focuses on building positive relationships between students and staff. That focus strengthens the idea that kids would want to behave better if they care more about others around them. Sundblad said positive, relationship-building conversations begin first thing in the morning.

“The idea of greeting them at the door, asking them how they are,” said Sundblad. “[Or] about things that are bothering them.” Sundblad said open and honest conversation like these show kids they can trust and open up to their teachers. If something is bothering a student, it could impact their studies, which is why CKH schools like to be in the know.

“Kids spend an average of seven-to-eight hours a day at school,” said Sundblad. “There are students who might not come from the best of environments. Whether it be at home, or things they’ve witnessed. We owe it to them to give them the best day that is possible.”

Sundblad said she hopes to show her students that they’re all human, and that it’s okay to feel things and have emotions. Moving ahead, she looks forward to fully implementing the second round of CKH training the district received before the start of the 2021-22 academic year, which is once again being provided by PHF.

Sundblad said the support has been phenomenal.

“You could not ask for more support, or a better guy,” she said, talking about PHF’s Executive Director Kevin Store. “He works with us. He enables us to be involved in these.” Sundblad said PHF “helps us make our districts, our schools and our curriculums better for our students.”

Store said he’s more than happy to support Copper Country kids through Capturing Kids’ Hearts. In fact, he thinks the program’s effects are quite significant.

“The things that the students are getting every day in its simplest form is really just a safe environment to navigate life’s difficulties with trained staff and faculty that are better equipped to identify and work through those issues with the students,” said Store, who hopes the values instilled will be for life. “It’ll have a profound impact on our community for years to come as we move forward.”

At the end of the day, a positive difference has been made in the Copper Country. Portage Health Foundation heard the needs, made the connections and helped implement something special. Every school district but one in Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties has now been introduced to Capturing Kids’ Hearts. Students in those schools are now better listened to, their opinions are valued and more social doors are being opened. With the valuable tools these kids now have thanks to Capturing Kids’ Hearts they will be ready for whatever future situations life will unfold.