At the end of recess one afternoon, a group of first and second graders at South Redford’s Thomas Jefferson Elementary are spread out in their own play bubbles to keep them safe from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, enjoying a few minutes of unstructured playtime.
As the 80 or so students line up to head inside, their principal, James Kinsey, moves from the center of the outdoor blacktop to the door. With each stride, he greets a different student. It’s the end of the fourth week of school, and at this point, he knows all 253 children by name.
“Hello everyone, how are you? Thank you for getting those masks on.”
“How’s it going, Neil?”
Neil looks up as another students yells, “Neil’s been doing good!”
Mr. Kinsey replies with a chuckle, “Alright, Neil, my man! That’s what I want to hear.”
He takes two more steps.
Amid the flock of waves and chorus of “Hi, Mr. Kinsey!” a student shouts, “Hey, scoot up!”
With a quick glance, he says quietly but firmly, “I think there’s a better way to say that.”
“Please, scoot up,” the student says.
“That’s definitely it,” Principal Kinsey replies with a smile.
On the playground, in the hallways, and especially in the classrooms at Jefferson, there is a lot of that — a palpable sense that the adults in the building know the students they’re responsible for teaching. The school environment also reflects an intentionality to effectively teach, while constantly curating an environment where it is healthy for children to learn.
“Right now,” said Kinsey, “our [school’s] mission is that we’re a community of leaders who are safe and kind. We just want to get kids where they need to be academically, behaviorally, and socially. Wherever that ‘need to be’ is, we pay attention to [that] and then we start working from there.”
That bottom line strategy is working for students.