By Dedra Cordle
The origin story for the budding superheroes in Emily Moler’s kindergarten class at Prairie Lincoln Elementary began with a simple conversation.
It was shortly before the start of a new school year when Moler sat down with Principal Julie Kenney to brainstorm ways to keep the students motivated from the first day to the last.
“We were throwing out some ideas that could keep them constantly engaged in the learning process when we brought up those vests that the Girl Scouts wear and how cool we always thought they were,” said Moler.
At first, the comment didn’t stick around in her mind for too long but then she spoke with her nephew, who just happens to be a Boy Scout.
“He loved talking about the patches he had earned and you could really tell how much pride he took in them,” she said.
After those two conversations, she said, an idea began to take root.
“I thought it would be nice to incorporate something to do with superheroes,” Moler said. “I mean, who doesn’t love superheroes? I certainly do.”
Working off this idea, she thought of all the things that superheroes stand for – respect for others, responsibility, kindness, knowledge – and how she could relate those themes to her students. Then she thought of the picture some superheroes present to the world and flowing capes of power immediately came to mind.
Suddenly, she knew what had to be done.
“Capes!” she said. “I wanted them to wear capes and have them adorned with the milestones they have learned throughout the school year.”
Having been an educator for nearly two decades, she didn’t think she would feel those first-year butterflies in her stomach as she addressed her new class, yet they were present as she prepared to tell them about the capes of knowledge just a few days into the school year.
“I was worried they were going to think the idea was lame,” Moler said.
That, however, was not the case.
“They were so excited when I told them about it,” she said. “They kept asking whether they really get to wear capes.”
While there is not a designated day for cape wearing, a majority of the kindergartners prefer putting them on whenever they enter the classroom.
“Wearing it makes me feel like I have powers,” said 5-year-old Shaniya Duncan.
After just a few weeks of classroom learning, Duncan is one of a handful of students who have not only earned a name patch for knowing how to spell her name, but also an ‘ABC’ patch for knowing the alphabet and a ‘20’ patch for her counting prowess.
Moler said one of the things she is most proud of regarding the capes of knowledge is how supportive the students are of each other when they reach certain milestones.
“There is no jealously when someone is presented with a new learning patch,” she said. “They are very enthusiastic and root each other on.”
If there was one surprising thing to come out this idea, said Moler, it was how much ownership the children have taken in their prized possession.
“They want to do more with it and have patches that are personalized for them,” she said.
For instance, one of her students has a speech impediment and asked Moler for a specialized patch for when her speech improves. Another loves the idea of books, but does not yet know how to read. When she does, she said she wants a book patch to display her new skill.
“The amount of thought they are putting into their capes has blown me away,” said Moler.
She said she is also blown away by their motivation to learn.
“I have definitely noticed a huge shift in the classroom morale from years past,” Moler said. “That is not to say that my other students were not motivated to learn but this group has shown more interest and more progress in a shorter time frame.”
Because of the success of the capes thus far (some food stains and Velcro issues notwithstanding) Moler said she does plan to incorporate them into next year’s classroom as well.
“I want all of my students to know that learning is a power, and it’s a power you will take with you throughout your life,” she said. “Knowledge is powerful, learning makes you powerful and if you have the skill of learning and the knowledge that comes with it, you have the power to do anything in life.”