Education column: Bella Vista community fosters sense of joy

Cyndi Kleyn-Kennedy: Clovis Municipal Schools

“Nothing Without Joy.” What a message to see when you walk into your school each day.

Most of us are aware of a very special school in our community, but many might not fully understand the vision behind the arts-infused “magnet” school called the Arts Academy at Bella Vista.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been in the building early in the morning, but as always, I was taken aback by the rich sight and sound of the entire elementary school — including students, staff, and parents — singing together as they began their day.

You immediately feel compelled to join in and clap along or try to follow the motions that accompany many of the songs. A very deliberate beginning to each day is the coming together at 7:30 a.m. in the cafeteria for breakfast — all students, all staff — as a family. Right after comes the music and movement to get bodies and brains going in a positive direction for the day.

It’s research-based, but what I saw was a great sense of joy in community. Several teachers introduced new students, and the rest cheered and clapped. After a few essential announcements, all went off to class through the halls lined with a visual cornucopia of eye-popping, 3-D bulletin boards.

I wish I could capture everything I heard and saw, but alas, space constraints prevail.

Here are a few:

• Jenn Wines, special ed teacher, when asked about the unique challenges of special needs students, “None. The freedom to teach is the ideal environment for my students.”

• Christi Hartley, sixth grade: “Daily challenges of infusing the arts stretches me and my thinking.”

• Colleen Biller, third grade: “Every single student can be successful through integrating the arts.”

• Cassie Eisenberger, first grade: “Huge sense of acceptance of all kids here, no matter where you come from; they’re happy and have a strong sense of ownership of their learning.”

• Stephanie Pack, third grade: “The ability to teach through the arts helps kids understand and develop creative and critical thinking skills; one that involves and incorporates the whole body, the whole child.”

• Lynnette Harris, first grade: “Our strength is our staff’s dedication to finding every child’s learning style. Part of our mission statement is: ‘We look for the genius in every child,’ and that’s exactly what we do.”

Chris Harrell, a fourth-grade teacher, musician, and song-writer, composed the school’s signature song, “Braveheart,” that so well captures the spirit. Parent involvement? Not a problem according to innovative principal, Shelly Norris, at the helm from the beginning; parents respond readily to the hand-written notes sent home and are frequently in and out, helping with all sorts of things.

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the Instructional Technology Coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at