Bryan Kay Has Some Magic Going At Traverse Heights

Throughout his career in education, Bryan Kay has sought to improve student performance and enthusiasm. He believes that children perform better when they enjoy going to school. When he was named Headmaster of the Traverse Heights Elementary in the fall of 2020, he wanted to get in immediately. “I am passionate about helping children in challenging situations,” he says.

Things don’t get much more difficult than what he stepped onto in Traverse Heights. The school has historically had one of the largest populations of at-risk students within public schools in the Traverse metropolitan area. To make matters worse, Kay came to the position in the middle of the pandemic.

He says that during that first year he found students felt separated from each other and from school. Some felt they didn’t belong in school at all.

So this year he decided to implement a new program to inspire the entire school, all grades, all students and all teachers and staff – and he sought inspiration from Harry Potter.

Kay and staff saw the students at Hogwarts in the world of Potter being divided into houses where all ages would merge into one team, and thought that such an approach would benefit the school. “A lot of employees like Harry Potter,” says Kay.

Last spring, the employees met and discussed what such an approach would look like in Traverse Heights. “The employees put the system together, what it should be and what it would stand for,” says Kay.

As in the Harry Potter books, the houses are all age-independent, in this case from preschool to 5th grade. Throughout their time at Traverse Heights, students will be part of the same house named after the Great Lakes.

During the first week of school, students and teachers gathered on the soccer field behind the school to find out which house they would belong to. They were sorted into their house with sealed envelopes (unfortunately no magic sorting hat). The staff cheered the students on when they were sorted, and cheered the students on when new members came into their home.

Students earn points for a range of positive actions and activities, just like in the books. Teachers can forgive them anytime they observe students behaving safely, respectfully, or otherwise good behavior, such as B. cleaning a room in the cafeteria or helping another student.

Kay assumes that older students will take care of the younger ones from their home. He says that in this way the students depend on each other and don’t have to worry about adapting but seeing the school as a place they want to be. “It goes from teacher to student and from student to student so that learning can take place.”

Each month the student with the most single points will receive a scooter and helmet donated by the school’s PTO and an hour of bowling for the Incredible Mo’s student’s family. The houses are also recognized, with the house with the most points waving its flag over the school. Special assemblies will honor the caretaker at the end of each semester and at the end of the school year.

Behind this is the emphasis on positive interaction between the students and the staff. Kay believes this will also improve student performance that student engagement and mentoring and academics are linked. “The whole intent … is to create connections and relationships to pave the way for better learning. It’s hard to learn when (students) feel like they don’t belong, ”says Kay. “It’s fun, but everyone has to work hard and make an effort, (then) celebrate successes.”

Kay previously taught at Blair Elementary, another school with many students coming from difficult situations. In fact, he and his wife got apprenticeship jobs side by side at Blair. “I’ve only worked in high-risk schools,” he says while teaching in Denver before returning to his home state.

Although the program has only been around for a month, Kay is excited about the impact it has on the school. “We want to strengthen school pride,” he says.

And his boss agrees: Superintendent Dr. John VanWagoner told The Ticker: “Bryan has done an excellent job over the past two years bringing innovative ideas and highlights to the students. We are just grateful to have him as head of this building. “

Pictured: Kay, with Student of the Month, Harper Smith, who earned the most House Points in September.

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