One of the keys to being a successful educator is building strong relationships with students and their families. Those strong relationships create trust between students and the adults in the school, allowing students to feel safe and valued each day in their classrooms and throughout the building.

At our middle school, students receive KIPP Cash, a school-based currency that students can use on their KIPP Cash Pay Day to purchase school supplies, t-shirts, and even staff experiences. Ms. Chaffee, a Student Services director at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle, and Ms. Corya, a 6th grade humanities teacher, got to experience the power of these relationships first hand when they took two KIPP Indy students to join them at Cake Bake for one of these staff experiences. Here is what Ms. Chaffee had to say about the experience in the staff newsletter:

“It’s so nice for kids to get to know teachers as real people,” Amaris announced as she dug into one of the six gigantic slices of cake spread out before her last Friday at Cake Bake. Amaris had cashed in for a staff experience and she, “bff” Janiyah, Ms. Corya and I were attempting to sample pretty much every dessert at the bakery.

I’ve sometimes wondered what makes the staff experience a grand prize– why is time with a teacher (who kids see every day) so highly valued? Is it just about eating cake, watching the Pacers and playing laser tag? Partly. But I don’t think that’s all.

Amaris remembered the Cake Bake pictures from last year and described racing to the table at KIPP Cash Payday to claim the experience. For the seventh time that evening she gushed, “I am sooooo glad I picked this prize.” Janiyah, in a sugar-induced hysteria, collapsed into her friend’s lap with laughter.

And I thought to myself, you know what? I’m glad I picked this prize, too. Aside from getting lost on the highway as Amaris and Siri yelled out contradicting directions, it was so powerful to spend time with our kids in a fun, positive light. We shared a memorable evening that had a deep impact on all four of us. Before Friday, Amaris and Janiyah were not students that I knew particularly well and interacting with them really showed me that – more than just students – these are OUR students. Just like us, they have lives outside of the four walls and desks we place them in.