BRISTOL - The students of Greene-Hills K-8 School skipped into the gym to upbeat music, past a double line of adults cheering, high-fiving them and holding up signs that read “We Believe in You! Dream Big! I Will Help You Succeed!”
“Welcome to our Kids at Hope kickoff assembly,” Principal Scott Gaudet greeted them. “Have we ever had an entrance like that before?”
“No!” they shouted in reply.
“If I were you I would have felt like I was in the Super Bowl or something, that entrance was so cool,” he said.
The adults included Mayor Ken Cockayne, members of the police and fire departments, representatives from ESPN, parents, and guys from The Lost Breed, a West Hartford-based team that visits area schools to lead students in workout programs.
“Kids at Hope is a way for us as a school to show and share with each other that we can all be successful, no exceptions,” Gaudet said.
It is a nationwide program that began in Arizona in 1993 by a group of young development experts who were concerned that the term “youth at risk” carried negative connotations. They came up with the term “kids at hope” instead.
Assistant Principal Cathy Hill explained to the students that the program includes a pledge that she wanted them all to learn. It goes “I am a Kid at Hope. I am talented, smart and capable of success. I have dreams for the future and I will climb to reach those goals and dreams every day. All kids are capable of success, no exceptions!”
“If you feel like something is getting hard you might even say this at home,” she said. “If something is challenging or hard you can just remind yourself I’m a kid at hope. I am capable of success. I’m gonna keep trying.”
She showed a short video animation illustrating the pledge and set to music, created by sixth-graders Abigail Messier and Kaitlin Baumann.
Gaudet challenged the students to learn the pledge by heart, saying anyone who can share it with a teacher without looking at any notes would get a blue Kids at Hope bracelet.
He then challenged the adults, who are known as “treasure hunters” in the program, to learn their own pledge. “As an adult and a treasure hunter I am committed to searching for all the talents, skills, and intelligences that exist in all children and youth. I believe that all children are capable of success, no exceptions!”
“We call them treasure hunters because our job as educators, parents, and community members is to find the treasures inside of you and make sure that you know what your treasures are,” he said.
Afterward, Gaudet said the staff is being trained in the program and eventually the parents will get training too. Another part of the program is called “time travel,” in which the kids are encouraged to think about what their future lives might be like.
“It’s not just ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?’ but also do I want to be married, do I want to live in a house or apartment, do I want to live in Bristol, what are my hobbies going to be, how am I going to give back to my community. Even if it’s probably going to change as they go along, they’re never too young to start thinking about that future,” he said.
Hill said that children from one-parent families, who have a family member incarcerated, or who don’t have enough money for food or clothes are often labeled “at risk.”
“We want to change that perception of ‘at risk’ and help kids understand that they are at hope,” she said. “And it’s really for adults too because it causes us to look in the mirror and reflect on what we believe about children.”
Joselyn Benoit, a Greene-Hills PTA parent with twin first graders, said she loved the idea when it was first introduced at a PTA meeting.
“I’m a social worker in my profession,” she said. “When I saw the presentation I was so excited. Instead of seeing kids as having deficits it’s about seeing the positive in children and what they can do, and I just love that.”
For more information, visit kidsathope.org or find Kids at Hope on Facebook.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.