Excellent Educators is a WAVY-TV 10 initiative to celebrate local teachers who have gone above and beyond for their students and communities during the last academic year. These Excellent Educators were nominated by their school divisions. Congratulations to these educators for all of their hard work and accomplishments!
Name: Kara Hart
Division: Hampton City Schools
Position: School counselor at Bryan Elementary School
What the school division said about this Excellent Educator: Kara Hart is a model educator at Bryan Elementary School, a positive role model for students inside and outside of the school. She goes above and beyond each and every day. She does not just educate the students, but she educates the staff, families, and community members. She provides a safe space for students to come when they need support. We all know that students cannot learn if their basic needs are not being met, Maslow before Bloom, and Hart ensures that students, teachers, and families understand that concept.
Hart educates students on how their brain works and what happens when they enter into fight or flight mode. She uses that to teach students coping mechanisms so they can ensure their basic needs are being met so that learning can happen each and every day. Not only does she teach this directly to the students, she teaches it to parents and provides social emotional learning (SEL) tips so parents can use these same coping skills at home. Hart has led the charge in starting lunch buddies at Bryan to help some of the students who may “fly under the radar” but have been identified as needing SEL.
In short, not a day goes by that a student and/or parents are not stopping Bryan’s administration to ask if they have seen Hart, if they can relay a message to Hart, or can they simply just tell Hart “hi.” She has made a lasting impact on students and families that have changed the trajectory of some educational journeys. She has helped open the eyes of students, parents, and educators so they are able to meet student’s needs in order to be successful in the classroom. The students that she encounters every day would tell you hands down that she is one of the best parts of Bryan Elementary School. Hart truly embodies Hampton City School’s mission of “Every Child, Every Day, Whatever it Takes!”
WAVY TV 10’s Katie Collett had a chance to speak with this educator.
When you think of teachers, you may automatically think about math or science, but you could say school counselors are the ones who get our kids’ minds right, and ready to learn. The kids at Bryan Elementary sure love their school counselor, Kara Hart!
“She helps out everybody. Even if you’re mad, you can go to Ms. Hart, talk to her, and take a breather,” said Ashtyn Robinson Coppedeg, a 4th grader at Bryan Elementary.
It’s funny Robinson Coppedeg mentions a breather because breathing is a big lesson Ms. Hart teaches her students.
“One thing that we use here all the time is to smell the flower, blow out the candle,” said Hart.
“So, you smell the flower and then blow out the candle and then, it helps you refresh your mind,” said Robinson Coppedeg.
“Developmentally, they have a long ways to go before their brain, they say is fully developed at 25, but your brain never stop growing. So, you can always learn new strategies. In fact, it’s my favorite when kids go home and teach their parents the things that I do here, and then the parent says, ‘You know, I was using your deep breathing the other day.’ You never stop learning, but especially at this age, your brain is so reactive to the things that are happening around you. There’s just so many things that they haven’t learned yet.” said Hart.
When you walk into Hart’s office, you’ll see dolls, puppets, stuffed animals, blocks, and more. Hart says these things are what help students learn.
“Kids learn through play, so when you come in here and look around, there’s lot of what people perceive as toys, but those are tools that I’m using to access that child’s brain which is where they do all of their learning.”
Hart works hard to help students find the best way to express their emotions.
“Every student has been taught about different feelings language. We want them using more than just the words happy, sad, mad, glad, scared. We want them using the more specific language, because if I’m just saying, ‘I feel okay,” I don’t have any idea what that means. You know? But if you give me something specific, that I’m feeling embarrassed right now, then I can sort of get to the core of what’s going on to be able to help solve the problem. We also talk about triggers. What sets you off? If you know that multiplication is really hard for you, and that’s going to set you off every day at math time, then we can make a plan for that to prevent you from getting so overwhelmed by your big feelings.”
She says it’s important to understand the new ways to educate our children about their mental health.
“Back in the day, it was ‘Know your place’ and ‘You don’t talk back to me’ and things like that. Whereas we’re trying to give kids a voice in a way that they’re able to express their feelings, their needs, that shows that they’re missing a skill, in a respectful way, so that the adult can hear it, because sometimes as adults, we respond to the behavior, or what seems like disrespect to us, and really they’re just expressing to us, ‘I don’t have the skill. I don’t know what I’m doing. I need help.'”
Hart likes to make sure her students understand the importance of a positive mindset.
“I can’t read that word YET. I can’t calm my feelings YET, and that changes it from negative to positive in our brain,” said Hart to one class.
While this school counselor focuses a lot of her day on the students, she constantly works with parents and staff to give them resources for success at home and in the classroom.
“I do a lot of professional development with the grownups here in the building, too, because we all come from different backgrounds, different experiences. It’s important for us to all know and be on the same page, because people are trusting us with their children for 7.25 hours a day, five days a week. We need to be a safe place here that those kids can come, and feel loved, and feel that they can express themselves.”
Hart says the most frustrating part of her job is that she can’t help everyone at all times, but it’s clear she’s giving these kids a great start.
“It’s super important to me, because I believe that the things I am teaching them will send them out in the world to be good humans.”