Show kids you care, then watch what happens

Did you see the stunning performance delivered by UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi when she competed a few weeks ago? After watching her spot-on, joyful floor routine, it was not surprising to learn she had been a prospective Olympian.

However, there is a story behind that performance more meaningful than the perfect 10 she scored that day.

Ohashi was just 3 when she began competing. The strictures of gymnastic rules and pressure of competition almost did her in. When she sustained a back injury, she said she almost felt happy.

According to her coach, Valorie Kondos Field, a superstar in her own right, Ohashi told her she had lost any joy she felt for the sport. The coach realized that rather than coaxing her to compete, she needed to earn her student's trust. During a recent TV interview, Kondos Field told the interviewer students have to know she cares about them as a person. She went on to say that she does not discuss gymnastics with them outside of the gymnasium.

Did you see what forming that trusting relationship led to for Ohashi?

It's happening here, too.

Recently, I wrote a story about a state award earned by several local schools in Avon, Avon Lake and Sheffield-Sheffield Lake. I was struck that each adult with whom I spoke about the honor linked their success back to the relationships teachers form with students.

I had a similar experience this past week when a Westlake High School student told me he and his teammates devoted many after-school and weekend hours to a project because they cared about their class. His team and three other Westlake teams landed top spots in a student home design contest. I believe the relationship between those students and teacher Scott Kutz who gave up many of his weekends to be at school with them as they designed and built their projects was a key factor in their achievement. I was flattered to be their audience that day and witness their excitement over an opportunity to discuss and show off the results of their hard work. My disappointment was that class ended so quickly that I was unable to see all the accompanying documentation another student had raced home to get.

A robotics team from Brookside High School participated in an elite invitation-only competition in our nation's capital over the weekend. The team won the invite based on its performance at last year's World VEX Robotics competition. Their adviser Kevin Landis is frequently in his classroom six or seven days a week this time of year as students prepare for their next competitions. However, I have also been in that room when talk has turned to grades, college, sports of all kinds or social activities.

Then there's Avon Lake’s Redwood School principal T.J. Ebert, named Ohio Elementary School Principal of the Year. Criteria for the award require that the principal be actively engaged in assuring programs meet students' academic and social needs and have firmly established ties with parents and local businesses. He's all that for sure. He is also the guy who donned an elf outfit in December, and stood on the roof of the school, with his kindergarten director, to remind little ones that the Redwood Elf was watching. "Elf" Ebert was also spotted perched on top of lockers another day.

All of these students benefit from having caring adults accept them as they are, give them a safe place and nurture their different strengths. Kids can thrive under these conditions. That's not me speculating. There is research — lots of it — that says if you want kids to learn and achieve, let them know first that you care about them as people.

Most teachers, administrators and coaches do this, day in and day out, with little or no recognition.

It is good news to be able to share in the midst of so much bad or discouraging news.

We may be in the middle of cold and flu season when we try hard to avoid spreading bugs. But whatever it is these educators have, I sure hope it is highly contagious and spreads like crazy.

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