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West Valley City Journal

Leadership and recess – how one school is making a difference

Mar 16, 2020 03:24PM ● By Kathryn Elizabeth Jones

Coaches at the Junior Coach Leadership Summit in spring 2019 at the SLCC Sandy Campus. (Photo courtesy Morganne Nielsen)

By Kathryn Elizabeth Jones | [email protected]

Making a difference comes in all shapes and sizes, even successes and challenges as Morganne Nielsen, Playworks program coordinator at Jackling Elementary, will not hesitate to tell you.

In her second year of outfitting students – not only with some cool purple T-shirts, but in instilling within each frame accountability, kindness and compassion — Coach Morganne (as the students and faculty know her) is all about making a difference in the lives of those she coaches. This includes corralling and teaching 45 student leaders for the 2019-20 school year; i.e., mentors, junior coaches, and assistant coaches.

Last year, Morganne had only eight junior coaches, and that was “pretty much the program as a whole,” she said. But this year, “I had so many kids interested, I decided to start some secondary programs.”

And she has, with some amazing results. Coaches from fourth to sixth grade are learning how to transition students from recess to class time, are doing line-up cheers and attention grabbers for the younger grades, and learning how to diffuse conflicts as they arise. Recently, the coaches took part in a Martin Luther King Day of Service for Primary Children’s Hospital, providing monster dolls, created, cut and sewn by their very own hands.

 Growth is what Morganne counts on seeing every day.

“I like working with the kids and helping them to realize their individual power,” she said. She likes to “show them that they can make a difference in the lives of other kids just by playing with them and being a good example.”

“So much of the program caters to natural born leaders,” she explained. Even so, there are a few students in the program that lead in their own way.

One such student, a fourth-grader named Ale, is the sort of leader who is good with the individual, Morganne said. “She’s very alert. I’ll look over and she’s talking to someone on the other playground – like 200 yards away. She serves in her own way.”

Ale speaks highly of her coach, too. “I like playing with the kids,” she said. “And I want to be like Coach Morganne. Brave.”

“People show their power differently,” Morganne said. “Ale knows she’s not good at line-up cheers but she’s so good at many other things. I feel like all of the coaches kind of have that.”

Coaches are expected to set an example. They are expected to step up and do things even when they are not asked. They are expected to help other kids feel accepted and appreciated.

And they are expected to attend after-school meetings and yearly events.

After-school meetings, taught by Morganne, assist students in the best ways to solve problems in and outside of the playground, such as bringing order into the classroom after recess or facilitating games like four-square and basketball. Rather than asking, “Coach Morganne, what can I do?” they “assert themselves” and take care of it, she said.

Each year, schools are required to hold a Community Engagement Initiative event through Playworks. Last year, the coaches focused on mindfulness, this year they are merging with Sandberg Elementary. “That’s who we’ll be inviting as part of our student body next year,” Morganne said. “It will be fun.”

Additional fun will include the Junior Coach Leadership Summit held April 16. About 500 junior coaches will come together at this half-day event to receive awards, have some fun with recess games, and brainstorm ideas to make the next school year of coaching even better.

In a nutshell, Morganne doesn’t see the program as going in any direction but up.

“I really try to instill a sense of kindness and compassion in all I do, so I’m hoping in working with the program that they can see a problem and fix it,” Morganne said. “Do what you can to assert yourself. Realize you have a power to be kind. That really makes a difference.”

Morganne is always looking for help in the Playworks Program at Jackling. (The national program has been in the running to improve recess since 1995). She has one volunteer, Coach Josh, who comes in every Friday to assist her, but she is open to receiving more help. “I like volunteers to come and be a part of the program,” she said. “We need consistent, caring role models for kids.”