“Sweet Caroline,” and other upbeat tunes were blasted and colors from a disco ball light bounced on the ceiling in the lobby of Needham Elementary School.
Each of the Franklin elementary school’s 420 students shuffled into their school on a Monday morning about 7:30 a.m. Some looked tired. Others marched through the door as if they were on a mission to get to their classrooms.
Then they saw the parents and community volunteers clad in bright orange shirts with smiling faces. Most of the students cracked a smile and went to hi-five or hug the people who wanted to make sure they got a good start to the week.
Needham Elementary School is working with Franklin Community Church to pilot a program called “Have a Nice Day,” at Franklin Community Schools that brings volunteers to the school Monday mornings to greet and hopefully brighten the students’ day and create a positive start to the week.
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What started as a substitute teacher wanting a way to fund snacks for students who didn’t have snacks on their own has grown into a school, church and community partnership of fun and encouragement and is expected to grow into a program that will span all Franklin schools.
“It’s just a positive, friendly adult interacting with them that they may not have have gotten over the weekend,” said Tara Rucker, a parent volunteer. “Having to come to school on Monday after a weekend is rough.”
Laura Perry, a volunteer and substitute teacher, was in a classroom during snack time when a student who did not have a snack asked her for one.
Perry remembers the downtrodden look on the child’s face when she asked. The the girl came in holding a bag of croutons and told Perry she saved it from her lunch so she could have a snack. Perry knew she had to do something.
“Children shouldn’t have to worry about where their food comes from,” she said.
She remembered in high school that she was part of a club whose purpose was to help people have a nice day.
Shirts were printed with smiley faces and the slogan and sold to volunteers and students to pay for snacks for students.
Then, parent and community volunteers were found who could come in to greet the students and the initiative was born.
“It is just to get them excited,” Perry said. “You can see that they are half asleep when they come in that front door.”
And it is helping.
The Monday morning greeting allows them to see that their teachers, school and community care about them and can help the learning environment, said Dylan Purlee, principal at the school.
Educational research shows that kids learn better and care more about what an adult knows when the adults can show the student that they care, Purlee said.
The Have a Nice Day initiative is one way for students to be shown that their educators care about them, he said.
“We hope it gets us all on the same page with an exciting start to the week.”
The program started at the beginning of the school year and students have warmed up to the idea.
Rucker had a few hugs when she stood out in the lobby at the beginning of the program in August.
Now she can count on about 20 hugs from students who recognize her. Getting a hug or a hi-five helps gear up students for the week, third grader Cassidy Rucker said.
“It starts off the day happy,” she said. “You have a good day.”
Following the greeting at school, students go to the gym for a Monday pep rally to get them going for the week. A student team works together to put together announcements. Students jump and dance to songs and take a pledge to the school and the American flag. This was a program that was for student leaders last year. Now, all of the students participate, Purlee said.
And now that Have a Nice Day is established at Needham, organizers are trying to get the program into other schools, Rucker said.
“We are really hoping this takes off at other schools,” she said.