Program aims for ‘Top 20’ students

FAIRMONT – It is a given that teachers will instruct students to read, to calculate and to understand scientific theories.

But who will teach youth to see life through another’s eyes, to know their strengths and to identify negative thought patterns. At Fairmont Area, three teachers underwent training over the summer to do just that.

Early Childhood Family Education’s parent teacher Marlys Rogers, first-grade teacher Pam Brolsma and junior high math teacher Rex Hernes will be making a concentrated effort to incorporate Top 20 concepts into their classrooms and their workplace.

Top 20 Training is a company that offers a program to encourage unique character development and emotional intelligence. Fairmont is the first community in the nation to offer the training to schools, businesses and community members.

“In Fairmont, we have lots of people trained in this,” Brolsma said. “The language and the concepts are the same.”

Brolsma plans to incorporate themes of the training – creating habits of thought, learning and communication – into her classroom through a curriculum she is piloting. She obtained the curriculum from St. Boniface School in Cold Spring.

She will teach students concepts such as “Thinking Above the Line,” “Honoring the Absent” and “Star Qualities”

Brolsma said the concepts are sometimes obvious.

“Honoring the Absent” refers to speaking well of someone not present. “Thinking Above the Line” is viewing life in a way that serves us well. “Star Qualities” are personal strengths.

But it is more than knowing a slogan, according to Brolsma.

After teaching the concept, she will use teaching moments throughout the day to help students understand and internalize them, creating positive habits.

“The teaching piece is that it is not just a slogan,” she said. “You can learn your ABCs, but it doesn’t mean you know how to read.”

She wants students to know that being smart isn’t only about being book-smart.

“I am big on curiosity,” she said, noting a Curious George theme she has in her classroom. “Being smart is about being curious. Truly successful people are not just book smart. They are self-smart, school-smart and people-smart. All are pieces of being successful.”

Hernes will use concepts in his classroom as well, teaching a class on Top 20 to seventh-graders.

The class will introduce students to the concepts and help them integrate them. He said it will be more than just telling students to “keep your day” but show them how to do it.

Hernes said the 80-20 concept popularized in the community by Top 20 is often misunderstood.

“A person isn’t Top 20 or Bottom 80,” he said. “We all have Top 20 moments and Bottom 80 moments. … But what are the habits of [Top 20 thinking] that everyone can learn?”

Fairmont Elementary assistant principal Michelle Rosen said Rogers, meanwhile, will use the topics to teach parents who take her class.

Brolsma said Top 20 isn’t something you learn once and then easily incorporate. It needs to be reinforced.

“These aren’t facts you learn,” she said. “They are habits you develop. We all know to treat people nice. So why don’t we? Because it is not a habit.”

Teaching students at several levels of schooling is intended to give them the skills to adapt the concepts to changing life challenges.

“If gets more complicated as you grow up,” she said. “I am hopeful that, if [students eventually] have 12 years of this, we will have a stronger community.”

The elementary pilot curriculum will be available to any teacher who wants to use it. Teachers also will be available to help their co-workers understand and incorporate the concepts.

The school’s involvement with the community Top 20 efforts will continue to merge, as the district’s regular Respect curriculum, of which Top 20 is a part, will work in conjunction with an effort in the business community to emphasize monthly themes.

The community will have another chance to embrace Top 20 concepts with a business community seminar 1-5 p.m. Sept. 18. Following that presentation is a free presentation from 6-8 p.m. for those involved with youth – such as coaches, mentors or church leaders.