SCHOOLS | September 2, 2021
Mr. Alexander Fernández, the dean of school culture and climate at Bateman Elementary School, can sum up his goals for the new school year in a single phrase—rebooting community. He explains that when visitors come to the school, they often say that Bateman is a large school that feels like a small school because of the close relationships between students and staff, and he knows that he has an important role to play in creating that environment once more now that students have returned.
At Bateman, students are expected to embody the “Blaze Ways,” a series of core values that includes being safe, respectful, and responsible. Mr. Fernández even dresses up as “Blaze Ways Man” from time to time to encourage students to practice these behaviors. He also wants students to be kind, inclusive, and empowering.
“What I would love for Bateman is that when people walk into the building, they can tell what our core values are without anyone saying anything,” he said. “When they see students interacting during recess, they should see kindness. If they see students struggling on a math problem in the classroom, they should see them empowering each other.”
These goals have been growing since Mr. Fernández was teaching history and economics to high school students. With each passing year, he focused more and more on incorporating restorative practices, amplifying student voices, and viewing students beyond just their academic performance. He brought those same priorities with him to Bateman.
To reach as many students as possible, he is continuing to collaborate closely with the school’s counselor, social worker, administration, and teachers. Bateman has long had a focus on positive behavior intervention support (PBIS), which includes frequent rallies and a reward system called “Blaze Bucks.” This is part of a larger focus on social-emotional learning (SEL) that has become even more crucial during the pandemic.
“When COVID came, we knew that we wanted to maintain our PBIS, SEL in the classroom, and our behavioral health team, and we really saw those SEL needs grow,” he said. “We really brought it to the forefront and are going to continue focusing on building community.”
Key strategies for cultivating social-emotional growth at Bateman include programs like Calm Classroom and Second Step, tools such as morning meetings and restorative conversations, and partnerships with organizations like The Kedzie Center, HANA Center, and Lutheran Social Services. However, for this combination of resources to be most impactful, Mr. Fernández believes that school staff need to have kindness and compassion on display daily.
“If a student comes up to me to tell me about their brand new Pokémon card, I need to treat that situation with positive energy because I know that Pokémon card is the most important thing to that student at that moment,” he said. “Whether I’m in a professional development session with staff, at a rally with students, or even in a school climate meeting, I try to bring energy, positivity, and kindness with me.”
Just as Mr. Fernández wants to “reboot” community at Bateman this year, he explains that the community is energizing and motivating him in tandem. Because he has built such strong relationships at Bateman with everyone from the lunchroom staff to parents to the security team over the past six years, being positive comes naturally to him.
“I always tie my work back to the community because the success here at Bateman has been such a blessing for me,” he said. “A lot of the things that I am able to do or implement here are because of the whole community. They gave me a sense of community when I joined the school, and now I hope to continue it.”