“Journeying to the Hearts of Our Children”

     Phyllis is the Creator, Coordinator, and Training Facilitator of the

     “Tribal Family Empowerment Program”

A Specialized Relationship Building Program



  • Family Comfort rose 11%, representing “getting along with family members”. Students and parents (guardians) receive the training together.
  • Self Reliance increased by 8%, representing “self-control”.  Emotional intelligence elicitive facilitation training is provided, focusing on students and parents (guardians) learning to trust their heart intelligence.
  • Social Skills grew by 13%, representing “ability to get along with others”. Respect, trust, acknowledgement, and appreciation are intentionally given to the students and parents (guardians) throughout the processes.
  • Ability to Complete Tasks went up 7%, representing increased focus. Clearly focused emotional intelligence skills are taught to the students and parents (guardians).
  • Anger Management improved 5%, significant because students and parents (guardians) were required by the Court to complete the training on Saturdays.  The program training /coaching focuses on perceptual transformation processes.
  • Distress Management abilityincreased 8%.  The perceptual transformation process focuses on  emotional states, identification of present emotional states, permission to be in that state, ways to reframe the emotional state, awareness of when the emotional states have shifted, to what, and whether that state in fact feels better.  
  • Ability to Handle Anxiety went up 4%.  Facilitation of the emotional intelligence aspects of shifting emotional states and understanding handling stress is provided to the students and parents (guardians).
  • Ability to be Empathetic did not improve and declined 1%.   Unresolved traumas are just at and/or below the surface for the students. An addition of powerful feelings and needs selection processes led to an understanding between the parent (guardian) and the student resulting in the quality of the child-parent-guardian relationship improving markedly.

Keys to Connecting© 



A Tribal Family Empowerment Program was created and continues having evolved through several administrations and a change in the Tribal Code.  A weekly Saturday School, Family Circle, and Mother/Father Groups are offered for individual families for  truancy intervention with students and their parents/guardians prior to referral and citation for chronic non attendance. 

C = CARING - Tribal Community, Education Personnel, Parents and Students
Shifting perceptions and acknowledging parents as both the first and the last teachers in the life of their child impacts the parent-child primary relationship. The fact the Tribe is demonstrating its care and value for its youth by enforcing the Truancy Code begins the long arduous journey to self-value, Tribal pride, and behavioral change.  Conscious efforts are made to create and sustain a support team for each student and their parent/guardian. 

U = UNDERSTANDING - The Teenage Brain                                                                                                                                                  
The curriculum includes learning facts about, needs of and choices involved in growing a healthy brain. The material is based on scientific research with the brain curriculum an essential core in facilitating motivation to self care and self responsibility.  Chronic sleep deprivation among the students has surfaced as a truancy issue.      

L = LOVE / HEART INTELLIGENCE - Shifting Emotional States                                                                                                                 Mothers requested “teach this to our kids".  Parents who are practicing their traditions have respectively expressed an understanding of the Heart connection to their People.  The curriculum includes the use of Freeze-Framer
® and emWave®
computer technology.  The appreciation circle process is an integral core of the curriculum services focusing on the student-parent (guardian) relationship.

T = TRUTH - Re-entering the Circle:  Attending School is the Job of the Student/ Investing                                                             As educators we are the leaders to guide the truant student to re-enter the circle.  Knowing the student needs to connect with the Tradition of his/her Tribe, function in present time, and prepare for the future we are called to be the leadership that connects their past to their present to their future. 

U = UNDERSTANDING - Brain Based Learning                                                                                                                                              Applying brain based learning to note taking, test taking, language of success and self managing negative thinking begins to develop the skills of the students and provide them with “in the moment” tools to manage their stress and self-monitor their behavior. 

R = RELATIONSHIP BUILDING - Communication                                                                                                                                           The heart of the program is relationship building.  Students consistently ranked meaningful relationship as their first choice. Most truant students perceive that they do not have a relationship with a teacher.  The ultimate goal is to facilitate the student in learning to value him/her self through positive relationships with his/her parents (gurdians), his/her Community Members, his/her teachers, his/her peers and learn that it is his/her presence that counts. 

A = AWARENESS - Healing: Breaking the Cycle of "Intergenerational Trauma"                                                                                   The reality of intergenerational trauma supersedes each intervention strategy provided to the students.  The students remain frozen in the behavior pattern utilized to cope and massage the pain of their feelings, with the truant students again falling into the crevice taking with them the pain, hurt, anger and shame of the trauma stock pile. There is a need for a Community based model at the school system level. 

L = LEARNING - Ownership of Choices
                                                                                                                                                             Some perceptual shifts about learning and school have been observed in students when choices focusing on the boundaries involved in taking charge of their own lives have been facilitated.  Both students and their parents/guardians have and are taking increased responsibility in monitoring their attendance.
©K. Phyllis M. Gagnier AZ 12/06



Strengthening the parents (guardians) and Community Members relationships with the students, creating and sustaining a nurturing school community in each classroom, building authentic student, parent (guardian), teacher relationships, creating an understanding of the child’s communication process, equipping the emotionally vulnerable child with self-empowerment skills, integrating strength based emotional intelligence “heart” and brain based learning into life skills, infusing aspects of the program development into the existing infrastructure, will empower students to become aware of and understand they have a choice in how they see their situations, to take ownership to shift their perceptions, and to self-manage their own behaviors.  


Quality Classroom Newsletter, Fall/Winter 2000, pp. 5-7, “Feature Interviews:  Working with a Bureau of Indian Affairs School in Southern Arizona” byJeff Goelitz

A Change of Heart: A Newsletter from the Institute of HeartMath, Winter 2003, Volume 1/Number 4, p.3, “Successful Truancy Program Involves Parents and HeartMath” by Jeff Goelitz



"I like to shift to my heart when my friends make me mad.  Shifting to my heart helps me get along better with my friends". (Boy age 11)

"Heart is special and fun.  It gets you in your heart.  Makes you do better in school and feel better for the rest of the day.  It helps you focus and it helps me get along with friends.  After I get out of the Heart class, I go to science and I feel better for the rest of the day". (Girl age 12)

"This Heart stuff is about learning more about your heart; how to get in it, and listen to what it is telling you because your mind can sometimes tell you bad things to do, like hurt people.  The heart gives you good thoughts.  Sometimes I practice getting in my heart when I’m in my room alone". (Boy age 13)

A teacher reports "the kids were very genuine in their response to her message about working with both their hearts and their heads.  I think it changes the students’ perspective of things".  "This is especially powerful for the junior high school girls in their newfound ability to set boundaries in the area of what behaviors they will accept from other people.   We talk about "heart dreams"- things that your heart tells you, that you would really like to do".

Another teacher reports, "I observed her working with a few classes at school.  The children connected, their faces glowed.  Heart tools add another way to make connections with who they are and make healthy choices and good decisions".  "After almost three years of implementing heart tools, we are working harder, smarter, and happier.  The students’ test scores are up.  They take better care of materials and equipment, are more polite and considerate, complete more assignments and retain more of what they learn".   "Heart tools have helped me create more inclusive ways to provide special education services to children.  By giving kids the tools and knowledge to access their heart, I hope to see them continue to succeed, achieve and be happy".


Phyllis is a co-author of “Recreating the Circle:  Returning American Indian Nations to Sovereignty, Self-Sufficiency and Harmony”, (publication pending)


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