St. Boniface School teachers team up with Top 20 Training to teach students positivity

By Dianne Towalski
The Visitor

Students at St. Boniface School are confident, they know that it’s OK to make mistakes. They know they have the power to make a positive difference in their lives.

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First-grade teacher Kim Baumgarten works on a project with Quinn Hodgins March 23 at St. Boniface School in Cold Spring. photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

It sounds like a line out of an admissions brochure, but it’s a reality for the Cold Spring school’s 230 students.

Three of the school’s teachers have teamed up with Top 20 Training — a St. Paul-based company that works with schools and businesses to help people learn how to think, learn and communicate effectively — to develop a curriculum for young children.

When children have these skills, “they can create a positive spirit for themselves and others,” said Paul Bernabei, a co-founder of Top 20. “Their God-given potential is more likely to develop than go underground.”

The principal, School Sister of Notre Dame Sharon Waldoch, said one of the biggest changes in her students is how they work together.

“When working in situations where there are conflicts, we hear the students using Top 20 phrases as they resolve the issues,” she said.

The students often can be heard using phrases like, “I’m above the line (having a good day),” “It’s an OPO (other person’s opinion), now let it go!” or “Confusion rocks because that means you’re learning!”

Four years ago, first-grade teacher Kim Baumgarten heard about a Top 20 workshop at a local public school. She asked Sister Sharon if she could attend.

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Second-graders at St. Boniface School in Cold Spring show off a Top 20 concept called The Frame in their classroom March 23. The words on the frame — see, feel, do and get — suggest that the way you see things affects how you feel, which makes you do something to achieve a certain result. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

When Sister Sharon heard about Top 20, she wanted to learn more.

“I was thoroughly amazed and excited,” she said. “It was identifying anything and everything that I thought would be appropriate for an ongoing program that would help children in knowing how to live, appreciate themselves, value themselves, value others and speak appropriately.”

After attending a Top 20 workshop, Baumgarten, along with second-grade teacher Krista Rausch and fellow teacher Lora Smith, who is now teaching at St. Francis Xavier School in Sartell, volunteered to work as a team to create the curriculum from what Top 20 already had available.

Top 20 had worked with students as young as third grade, but the teachers wanted to include kindergarten, first and second grade.

They developed weekly 15-minute lessons that are interactive, using the whiteboards in their classrooms. Each month of the school year is dedicated to a different topic, such as making mistakes, other people’s opinons or eliminating negativity.

These are topics that good teachers are already teaching, Rausch said.

“It’s written in a lesson plan format so they don’t forget anything, with common language all the way through,” she said. “That’s one of the things that’s nice about it.”

Having weekly lessons and using the same language all the time makes the program more effective.

“When everybody hears this over and over again it becomes common language and it becomes a part of who we are and what we’re about,” Sister Sharon said.

“People ask if it’s an anti-bullying curriculum, but it’s really just empowering children to know how to make their day wonderful, how to keep their day [positive],” Sister Sharon said.

“If kids are given the right tools, then when a bullying situation happens, whether they’re part of it, being targeted or not, then they’re going to know how to respond,” she said.

Sister Sharon and her teachers shared what they created with Bernabei and his colleagues at Top 20.

“What I observed the teachers doing was phenomenal,” Bernabei said. “We just have to put this in a package so other teachers can use it.”

“They had fantastic ideas and amazing talent for working with younger people,” said Kevin Brennan, a Top 20 trainer who worked with the team and helped proof the curriculum. “It was such a natural step for them to show us what they had been implementing in the classroom.”

Over the last couple of years, the three teachers have updated and reshaped what concepts to include and when they would be taught.

The school is now working with Top 20 and Master Teacher, a company that provides print resources and training for teachers, to market the finished curriculum.

A school in Arizona and an entire school district in South Dakota are piloting the program now and Bernabei is working with two schools in the Twin Cities to plan for next school year.

“What these teachers have created seems revolutionary in American education, but it’s very simple,” said Bernabei. “We are trying to maintain in the children what God put there to begin with, a passion for learning [and a] desire to learn, and remove from them these beliefs that get in their way, like I’m not smart enough or I’m not good enough.”