What is the bridge between children and adults? Education. More than ever before look towards education for a bright future. Thomas Jefferson Elementary School Principal David Muniz believes that it's never too early to provide students with the necessary tools in order to succeed.
Portage native and Valparaiso University alumni, Muniz always knew he wanted to go into education. He has always had a passion for working the elementary school students. He student-taught for nine years and served as a principal for six years in East Chicago. Muniz believed that working in East Chicago led to his growth as an educator. When he was offered a position as TJE's Principal, he knew it was an opportunity he could not pass up.
"Valpo to me growing up was like the New York Yankees. The education system we have here is the best of the best, and I always knew as an educator I wanted to be a part of it. We have excellent administrators, especially Dr. Frataccia. He's the bomb," Muniz laughed.
Muniz has put a creative twist on the traditional role of an administrator. He is a big supporter of incorporating new concepts into the different aspects of an elementary school. TJE is turning to technology in order to accomplish its goals, inside and outside the classroom. The staff uses the smartphone app called "ClassDojo".
Essentially, it is a classroom tool that helps teachers improve behavior in their classrooms quickly and easily. It also captures and generates data on behavior that teachers can share instantly with parents and administrators. Students are rewarded for positive behaviors, words, and academic performance, while parents have access to hassle-free data and reports. This is just one example of how technology can be woven into any aspect of daily life. At the end of the week, one student is awarded the title, "Dojo Master". Students receive a certificate and a pencil as an award for their good behavior.
"We always try to focus on constructive behaviors rather than negative behaviors. Something as simple as using supportive language truly does make a difference. We have little discipline problems and no suspensions. Our use of technology provides students with the opportunity to challenge themselves on a weekly basis to reach their full potential. We strive to create a positive school climate where students can learn while also having fun," Muniz said.
Muniz admits that while technology has played an influential role in the school's environment, TJE's high test scores and minimal discipline issues would not be possible without the phenomenal staff. He appreciates the teachers' dedication to their students and their eager outlook on anything new that the school is looking to implement.
The hard work and commitment on behalf of the teachers and the students is not going unnoticed. TJE is currently ranked a four star school by the state of Indiana and the ISTEP and reading scores are better than ever before. While Muniz believes that creating positive relationships with students and their families is the ultimate goal, high test scores prove that a learning environment can be fun, too.
Muniz said, "We have students from all walks of life here, so we always make it a point to learn more about the students and their background. That's how we build trust, honesty, and respect. It's all about two way communication. When you get to know people, they know you care. That positive learning environment is where students have endless opportunities."
As a high school student myself, Principal Muniz provides me with hope in the future of Valpo's education system. His unique approach to learning, motivation to better the status quo, and his ability to light up a room makes him the strong leader we need to steer youth education in the right direction. It is very rare to find someone who genuinely cares about making a difference without a hidden agenda, and I can proudly say that Muniz is one of those people.