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After the excitement of returning to school in a post-COVID world tapered off, Jessica Prusynski noticed a more apathetic environment in her classroom at Thatcher High School.
She said she observed at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year that a lot of her 10th-grade English students didn’t really care about their grades. They didn’t care about the way they treated each other or about the way they treated her. She said she knew she needed to step in and change that mindset.
Growing up playing volleyball, she recalled she was always on a team and part of a community. She wanted to replicate that feeling in her classroom. Thus, her “It’s Cool to Care” initiative was born in January 2022.
She purchased on her own silicon bracelets in fun colors and cute fonts that rocked her new motto — It’s Cool to Care. Each student received a bracelet and Prusynski went on to explain what it meant. There was hesitation at first, she said, because students tend to think they’re above school. But soon enough, she saw a shift in her classroom, and she kept up with it the following school year.
“It’s changed the academics in my classroom,” she said. “The attitude, the apathy is gone. It’s not going to be gone every single day, but this has definitely helped.”
Grades have shifted in a positive direction with fewer missing assignments, Prusynski reported. When it came time for the state exam last year, she said she spent a week and a half hyping it up and getting her students to care about it even though the score wouldn’t affect their grades. The result was the highest score they’ve ever gotten and almost 20 percent higher than the state average.
“We have kids that really struggled both academically and socio-emotionally that have really made significant strides this year, and I would say Mrs. Prusynski and ‘It’s Cool to Care’ played a big role in a lot of our students,” Thatcher High Principal Ryan Conrad said.
Prusynski said one student even went from being on academic probation freshman year to making the honor roll this year.
The excitement and positivity of her classroom initiative spread throughout the school as her previous students took the motto with them.
Conrad said Prusynski’s energy is reflected in other parts of the school. She serves as the National Honor Society mentor, and she started “Hallway Thursdays,” which is when she brings out games or activities in-between classes to re-energize her students.
Prusynski’s idea appears to be moving beyond Thatcher, as well. She said a coworker is moving to New Mexico for a new teaching position and that coworker asked if she could take this idea with her. More recently, Prusynski and Conrad presented these ideas at an education conference in Tucson. She has plans to do another conference over the summer and she eventually wants to apply for a grant to purchase more bracelets to keep the idea going.
Prusynski said it’s not necessarily important if her students remember specific poetry terms for the rest of their lives, but she does want them to remember the dedication, the drive, the organization and communication skills they learn from the Cool to Care initiative.
“I don’t accredit it to just me or just me as a teacher, but I think the positivity this message brings can stay in their lives forever, and that’s my goal,” she said.