Belonging begins at the top and flows through the school’s arteries

Setting the tone for a positive learning environment

Photos by Jennifer Martin
Hemet Quest staff spends a little time each morning to celebrate student successes and share data before the school day begins.

■ Jennifer Martin / Contributed

Images of school staff before the day begins can vary but they usually consist of people scurrying to make copies and fill their coffee one last time with casual glimpses and smiles.
Quite the opposite image is evident each morning at Hemet Quest Student Center. One steps into the atrium to find 40-50 staff members standing in a circle ready for a morning meeting. Ten minutes of staff recognition, good news, information sharing, and celebration set the tone for the day with a grateful heart and a tightly-woven community.
There is clapping, expressions of care and gratitude, acknowledgment of peers, and shout-outs for kids so all of the staff can tell the students the big news – that their name was mentioned in the meeting and we were so proud. The meeting closes just in time to serve breakfast and greet students at the gate and classrooms.

Students line up at the Affirmation Station to send encouraging notes to one another.

It isn’t just the staff that greets and has kind words and hugs, the students do it, too. Students make signs and notes to acknowledge their peers, even the ones they sometimes find annoying. “Filling their buckets,” as several students reference, they make their community feel good, and with a proud smile they follow the characteristics of a school-wide favorite, “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?”
The knowing smile one student gives to one another when a student with intellectual difficulties didn’t quite get it, but they go and support him anyway. The careful assistance one student offers another, leaning on each other’s shoulders as they limp to the office with an injury, often requires no more than a touch of water on a paper towel.
The gentle voice that helps a classmate use calming strategies to redirect their emotions. The huge cheers that erupt when anyone gets it right. These are the qualities that course through the arteries of our Hemet Quest Student Center.
Setting aside just a few moments throughout the day sets a tone where it just wouldn’t feel right to not go out of the way and be nice. Are there days when someone may still feel defeated or someone was unkind? Absolutely, but what stands out is how that is addressed in the end – whether it is a restorative circle, a simple apology, or an overdose of kindness – at Hemet Quest Student Center, we work together to overcome; we are family and we all belong.
At the heart, the source of life beats but the arteries that pump the life are what keep the heart life moving consistently. Acknowledging one another, love, support, recognition, light-heartedness, and a culture of praise is the very thing that strengthens the community.
All facets of the unit are required to beat strong. Everyone at Hemet Quest Student Center, from staff to students, engages in creating a place where all are emotionally and physically safe, and a culture of praise. We work hard, we celebrate, we slow down for the little things, and we all belong.

Students in grades 2-6 work together to create kindness banners, send friends affirmation notes, and discover ways to show that everyone belongs.

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