REXBURG – Hibbard Elementary School recently received the “Welcoming School for 2018-2019” via the International Alliance for Invitational Education.

The organization provided the school with a certificate for its efforts. Madison School District noted the award on its Facebook Page.

“Congratulations to our very own Hibbard Elementary who has been recognized as a Welcoming School for 2018-2019 by the International Alliance for Invitational Education. In nominating Hibbard for this recognition, Connie Ivers, a kindergarten teacher, noted that Hibbard is an extremely inviting school that ensures that every student knows they are an intricate part of the Hibbard Elementary family,” said the school.

The district reported that Hibbard Elementary focuses on the “whole child.”

“(It’s) ‘not just the academic piece.’ Mrs. Ivers also noted that the school's Parent Teacher Organization and teachers collaborate to provide many activities for students outside the school day,” it said.

The school district reported that Hibbard is one of a few select schools to receive the honor. 

“This is a very high honor, and IAIE doesn't give many out. What an amazing accomplishment and recognition for Hibbard Elementary,” it said.

Hibbard is just one of 383 schools to have received the award since IAIE was created in 1986, said the organization on its webpage.

A nonprofit educational organization, IAIE, partners with educators all over the world. It’s dedicated to the development of positive school, work and home environments. It also works to fight any kind of activity in school that hurts students, as stated on its webpage.

“More than forty years old and still evolving, Invitational Education points in a hopeful direction, offers an ethically principled approach to the educative process, encourages a common language of improvement, and provides systematic and practical ways to make schools ‘the most inviting places in town,’” it said.

Ivers has attended several of the organization’s symposiums and reported that many of the things Hibbard Elementary School does currently are what IAIE has encouraged for years.

“I go to these conferences and thought ‘Our school does that. We do that.’ We did so without realizing what we were doing,” Ivers said. “Since I’ve been teaching at Hibbard, we basically do all that stuff.”

All that stuff includes having Principal Willie Berry and School Secretary Kelli Frost welcoming students as they enter the school building each day.

“I would say there’s a really good feeling when you walk in the door. Our principal is always there welcoming the kids and high-fiving them. He’s using their names and making them feel welcome when they walk in the door,” she said. “We have the nicest secretary you’ll ever meet. She’s amazing with the kids, amazing with the parents and helpful with the teachers,” Ivers said.

Ivers says she believes that the school’s atmosphere starts with the school’s administration.

“I really think it’s the attitude of the secretary and the principal. They really set the tone. They hire really nice teachers, so that helps,” she said.

Berry declined to take any credit but instead said it’s all about the staff, students and parents.

“It’s not a lot to do with me. It’s a lot to do with teachers, parents and kids,” he said. “We have a great staff. We’re not a large school. We’re pretty close knit. The community is pretty close knit. Our parents’ support is great. Our teachers are welcoming. We have the kids’ best interest first and foremost,” he said.

Hibbard Elementary is made up of 225 children from kindergarten to the fourth grade. Two teachers serve over each grade making for a total staff of 10 educators, eight paraprofessionals and physical education teachers.

 “We’ve been real fortunate that those we’ve hired have come to the school and made it stronger. It’s really about our teachers,” Berry said. “We’re just in a really good place. We really are.”

Earlier this year, Ivers filled out several forms and provided examples of what the school does in an IAIE application. In the submission, she noted recognition from parents and provided various testimonials about the school. About a month after sending in the application, IAIE responded by awarding Hibbard with the honor.

Ivers’ husband, John, who teaches Language and International Studies at Brigham Young University, has also attended various IAIE conventions.

He reported that IAIE has five main principles that it encourages for educators.

“The first one is trust. You need to trust the students to whatever reasonable extent you can. You need to trust them as valuable responsible people. The students are not the enemy,” John Ivers said.

He noted the next standard involved respect. Every student should feel respected by everybody from fellow students to school administrators to lunch ladies. John Ivers reported dealing with an angry lunch lady while in grade school.

“I’m still scared of lunch ladies. Students should not be yelled and screamed at as often happens in the lunchrooms throughout this nation,” he said.

A third principle urges teachers to feel hopeful about students’ possibilities, John Ivers said.

“Teachers should be optimistic of their students’ potential. They should be optimistic that they can succeed and to not be negative. They should help create optimism within the student about their potential and future,” he said.

The next standard includes teachers honestly caring for students.

“Students need to perceive that the teacher cares about them,” John Ivers said.

John Ivers recalled a professor telling him that each student should believe they are the teacher’s favorite.

“‘Every student should think he or she is the teacher’s pet.’ I thought ‘Man, what a great statement,’” he said.

The fifth principle involves what John Ivers referred to as “intentionality.” Such means that a teacher should never let an opportunity to praise a child to go to waste,” John Ivers said.

He cited an example of a teacher hearing that a student did well in an extra curricular activity such as athletics, debate or drama.

“A teacher should never let an opportunity go to waste to go up to that student and compliment that student. The teacher should say ‘You did a great job,’” John Ivers said.

He recalled an English teacher congratulating him on finishing third during a track and field event. It was the best that John Ivers had ever done while in track.

“I was just so thrilled that my teacher recognized me. In fact she said it in front of the whole class. It made my whole day. We should never let an opportunity go to waste. We should intentionally look for ways to legitimately build a student up. When you see an opportunity to build a student up, you take it,” he said.

John Ivers also encouraged teachers to take a moment to visit with students when they see them outside of the classroom.

“When a teacher runs into a student of his or hers in the supermarket, the student sees the teacher out of context. It’s kind of a special event for the student to see that,” he said. “If the student is with parents, that’s the perfect opportunity for the teacher to talk to the parents about how great the student is and boost that student’s self-esteem. That’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted.”

The hope of IAIE is to create a positive, inviting and welcoming environment for school children in hopes of helping them to navigate adulthood.

John Ivers says that any kind of trauma experienced by a child while in school can have lifetime implications.

“Negative input weighs much more heavily than positive input on our psych. Students carry these experiences throughout life, and some kids have enough negative experiences in their lives to last a lifetime. The weight of negative experiences is so much,” he said. “We need to counterbalance these with sufficient positive experiences that don’t weigh as much. Invitation education is trying to prevent that sort of lifetime damage.”

The hope is that youth will have developed sufficient self-esteem while in school to realize they have value and will have the inner strength to ignore those who might attempt to bring them down, John Ivers said.

Just like his wife, John Ivers noticed how closely Hibbard was already following IAIE recommendations.

“My training as a teacher and educator was that Hibbard Elementary School was doing so many things right. My wife would just talk about all the wonderful things happening at the school,” he said. “I noticed they were following the principles of invitation. I was amazed and thought ‘Man, I wish I had gone to a school like that. I wish my elementary school had been like Hibbard’s.”

John Ivers printed out the IAIE forms and had Connie Ivers fill out the application.

“Hibbard Elementary is a very inviting place. Invitation education says that a school should be inviting from the principal all the way down to the staff members. From the principal to the lunch people, it needs to be an inviting place,” he said.

John Ivers noted that how teachers treat their students, and how the principal always greets students and talks to them. A school's staff doing so results in happy children, he said.

While waiting to hear back from IAIE, the couple held their collect breath hoping that Hibbard would receive the award.

And it did last week.

“It’s an especially great honor. The school deserves it,” John Ivers said.

Berry said he wasn’t aware that anyone had nominated Hibbard Elementary until he got the letter in the mail. It was a surprise, he said. 

“We were excited to receive that. We’re honored,” Berry said.

For more information on the IAIE organization, visit https://invitationaleducation.net/.