Utrust Staff in Sumner
Sumner is Home for School Appreciation Program
FRANCES GARY Oct 23, 2017
Three Hendersonville residents spend many hours each week exploring ways to make schools better. Dr. Dan Tollett, Kristi Coleman and Dameron Johnson make up the entire staff of Utrust, an organization with offices at 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 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.
The Utrust staff travels across the state persuading their members’ superintendents and principals to participate in the program offered at no cost to their schools. They convince them that when their employees feel appreciated, they will have higher morale and perform better. And when the 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 concluded 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. Former Principal Adam Cripps, who was recently named as the new principal at Ellis Middle School, said, “Through this program our students have learned the value of all employees. The student-generated celebrations are authentic and it is the sincerest forms of appreciation that mean the most to our employees.” Cripps continued, “Appreciating, celebrating others, giving back is the character piece our students will need to be able to best use their other skills.”
Music teacher Pam Andrews agrees. “When someone takes time to just stop and say I care about you and I appreciate what you do every day, it means a whole lot. When you teach you empty yourself every day. You work really hard but empty yourself into the hearts of the children. When someone takes a moment to say thank you, it’s like the bubbles fill up inside of me and suddenly I feel full again, and I’m able to give again.”
Beech Elementary School was the first school in Sumner County to implement the program. Teacher Jill Olund said, ” I LOVE that the Utrust program acknowledges groups that are often “under the radar” when it comes to accolades and recognition. Our support staff, custodians, and cafeteria team work tirelessly, often for very little thanks. This program not only gives them the appreciation they deserve, but it also teaches our students to look beyond the most visible people (teachers, administrators, etc.) to see the larger group that works behind the scenes to help make our school the best it can be. I’ve also seen this program help establish a stronger community at our school by instilling a greater sense of mutual respect and appreciation among students, staff, support teams and even parents who are involved.”
Beech High School is participating in the program this year. Chase Moore, marketing teacher and school coordinator for the appreciation program noted, “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 is happy that Sumner County has the program. He added, “It teaches students the important life lesson in making sure that you slow down and tell the people who are around you each and every day . . . helping you through life . . . thank you. I’ve heard so many stories from the employees about how just that simple acknowledgement by the students means so much, probably more than the director of schools or school board could ever do for those teachers and employees. It gives them a sense of love, and a feeling of family.” Phillips continued, “It teaches some valuable lessons, not only about being thankful to the people who help you in life, but also that you give back to your community. It is a tremendous program. We love it. I’m so glad we have it in Sumner County.”
Utrust is dedicated to making schools better places to learn and work, and its Employee Appreciation Program is changing the culture of schools across Tennessee. 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. It has been adopted by numerous school districts in Tennessee including Sumner County.
Frances Gary is a retired Sumner County educator who continues to devote her time and talents to organizations and schools that serve students.