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Sumner is Home for School Appreciation Program

by Frances Gary

Three Hendersonville residents spend many hours each week exploring ways to make schools better. Dameron Johnson, Kristi Coleman and Dan Tollett make up the entire staff of Utrust, an organization with offices in Hunt Club in Gallatin whose mission is to help school boards make schools better places to learn and work. One of the ways they do this is through their School Employee Appreciation Program.

They design theme related packets for elementary, middle and high school students chocked full of creative and fun ways to help students learn to sincerely express appreciation to school employees.  A student leadership team called the A-Team (A for appreciation) uses the packets to lead their school in celebrating a group of the staff on each of eight appreciation days throughout the year. They also develop guides for a student gratitude force (G-Force) in each school to use to ensure that every school employee receives genuine expressions of appreciation from different students every week of the school year.

They travel across the state trying to persuade superintendents and principals to participate in the program offered at no cost to their schools. They try to convince them that when their employees feel appreciated they will have higher morale and perform better. And that if their students develop an attitude of gratitude, they will be better students in every sense of the word.

Tollett, the program administrator, goes even further. He says, “The ability to express appreciation is a basic skill that has every bit as much to do with a person’s success as any subject studied in school.”  Tollett is right, according to research done by the Youth Gratitude Project, which concludes, “Research convincingly shows that grateful youth, compared to their less grateful counterparts, are happier, more satisfied with their lives, friends, family, neighborhood, and selves. They also report more hope, engagement with their hobbies, higher GPAs, and less envy, depression, and materialism.” 

Several Sumner County schools are participating in the program with great success. Station Camp Elementary School is a model for other elementary schools in the state.  Principal Adam Cripps said that the most valuable parts of the U-Trust program are the student-generated celebrations.  “They are authentic and the most simple forms of appreciation mean the most to our employees.”

Beech Elementary School was the first school in Sumner County to implement the program. Principal Bobby Elrod said, “

  1. W. Wiseman Elementary School in Portland was one of the earliest in Sumner County to implement the program. Janice Black, Second grade teacher and School Coordinator of the program said, “With all the negatives going on in education today, this program is refreshingly positive. It has resulted in more parental and community support than ever before and our children have learned proper phone etiquette when calling to remind parents of what they had pledged earlier on registration day.  It is a hit!”

Burrus Elementary School, in its first year of operation, has implemented a full-fledged appreciation program. Fifth grade teacher and school coordinator Valerie Beam said….

Beech High School Is participating in the program this year and a marketing class is developing a program to help market the appreciation program to high schools in the state that aren’t participating. Chase Moore, marketing teacher and school coordinator for the appreciation program said, “Many times school employees don’t feel appreciated and our teens sometimes get a bad rap. Through this program, our students learn to recognize what others do for them every day and let our school employees know that they care about them and appreciate their work. Our employees see that students can be thoughtful and sincere in expressing appreciation. It’s a win-win for everybody.” 

Director of Schools, Dr. Del Phillips said, “The Utrust Employee Appreciation Program is changing the culture of schools across Tennessee and it’s all stemming from right here in Hendersonville.  Utrust’s employees hope to help school leaders realize that gratitude is one of the most valuable and important emotions we possess.  The Employee Appreciation Program is a wonderful resource for schools that can make a positive difference for both employees and students.”

Frances Gary is a retired teacher from Sumner County Schools.