When Westwood teachers and staff boarded a school bus their first day back to work in August, they weren’t told where they were heading. The bus buzzed with anticipation, however, as staff members neared their destination.
When they arrived at Bella Sera Ranch, a wedding and formal party venue south of Palestine, they spent the day training for a new program based on a book they were told to read over the summer, The Energy Bus, by Jon Gordon.
The book lays out 10 principles for motivation, taking charge of your life, creating energy, and navigating challenges. The Energy Bus teaches the principles through parables; it has a children's edition to accompany the adult book.
Westwood aims to use those principles to create a a foundation for learning and academic achievement.
Superintendent Wade Stanford and his leadership group of 14 campus administrators, who meet monthly, decided they wanted to shift the school's culture, as well as improve student discipline and achievement. They use the principles laid out in the Energy Bus to help them do it.
School districts typically require book studies, usually with follow-up group discussions. Instead of becoming another book study or character program, Stanford said, The Energy Bus will become a long-term part of Westwood's curriculum.
The elementary school has 453 students in the third through sixth grades. These are critical years for learning basic skills in reading, math, and science—and for giving kids experiences and skills to cope with challenges in secondary school and beyond.
After six weeks of school, Westwood’s primary and elementary students—Pre-K through sixth grade—seem to have caught the program's infectious enthusiasm.
A third grade student at Westwood Elementary, Killleen Hebert, 8, enjoys reading animation books and practicing with the high school drill team, the Pantherettes, which performed at Friday’s game.
Herbert stands taller than her classmates. It doesn't make her feel awkward, though. She's confident and happy to be a leader. Herbert smiles when talking about the Energy Bus. “Positivity can bring kids together,” she said.
Herbert has also learned to walk away from an “energy vampire,” a bully or person trying to pull her down. “When there’s something negative, you can fight that negativity and be positive,” she said.
Lance Satterwhite, assistant principal at Westwood Elementary, said discipline and morale have improved as students learn how to take responsibility for their actions — and how to help others curb negative behavior.
Satterwhite, in his third year at Westwood Elementary, said the Energy Bus program gives everyone on campus a common vocabulary for improving education and learning. “I think [The Energy Bus] is helping classroom learning because there’s such a positive vibe among the students,” he said.
Sixth-grader Edgar Najera, 11, is slight and bespectacled, with black rims. The Energy Bus, he said, has brought more positive energy to the elementary school and reduced bullying.
Alieah Meyer, 8, a third-grader at Westwood Elementary, loves to dance, especially ballet, though she doesn’t take dance classes. She rides the bus home a few times a week when her mom has meetings and can’t pick her up from school.
Meyer said she enjoys staying positive and in control of her actions. She beams when sharing that she earned five bus tickets — rewards for positive behavior that are placed in a box and drawn for a prize at a school assembly.
The petite third-grade student, wearing glasses with light pink rims, knew immediately how to describe the Energy Bus program. “It’s about being positive ... and being the driver of your own bus.”
Cassidee Bruton, a Pre-K teacher who joined Westwood Primary this year, said the Energy Bus strengthens school relationships and keeps everyone—faculty, students, and principals – accountable for his or her actions.
Though everyone—pre-K students on up—are learning to drive their own bus, the true leaders are the district’s staff: teachers, principals, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and custodians.
Stanford leads book studies at each campus by focusing on one principle each month, but said the program would not work without faculty support. “It’s our staff that’s making the difference,” he said. “They’re owning the framework and they’re implementing it.”
The Energy Bus buzz has spread beyond the campus walls. Community members also want to learn more. Stanford will offer the first book study to the community on Monday, Oct. 26, at 6 p.m.
The location has not yet been determined, but Stanford promises to share it—ahead of time. Persons who would like to attend the book study should call Westwood's administrative office at (903) 729-1776.