This month, Playworks SLC is honoring Valita Ortiz (Coach Vee) for outstanding work at Copperview Elementary. Vee was the Playworks coach at Lincoln Elementary last year, and undertook a remarkable challenge moving to a new school at the other end of the valley. Vee has spent a lot of time building relationships with teachers, administrators and students this year, and her efforts are paying off. Kids at Copperview are playing the Playworks way, and her Junior coach program has taken off. The copperview avengers are celebrities on the playground, and Coach Vee’s remarkable energy feeds into their success. For sure, moving schools is always risky, but Coach Vee’s gamble has paid off, and for her courage we honor her as this month’s coach of the month!
What is your background and experience?
In 2007 I left my small college town of Alamosa, Co to pursue something bigger for myself in good ol’ Salt Lake City, Utah. Personally I was trying to escape becoming a big fish in a small pond. It was time for change and as some one say, I moved away to make my way. It was the best choice I ever made for myself. For the past five years I have been a progress Program Coordinator. I started as a Resident Director and then was given a promotion to Student Life Coordinator at Neumont University. After three years at Neumont I took a year and a half break to pursue business management. However, after finding Playworks I am very happy to be back in education as a Program Coordinator where I truly belong. This year marks my five-year anniversary living in Utah and I have had the amazing adventure of working for great professionals as well as networking with many organizations throughout the Salt Lake Valley.
What drew you to being a coach with Playworks?
To be honest, at the time I found Playworks I was working as a Manager Trainee for Big 5 Sporting goods. Management was slow moving as far as advancing to an Assistant Manager position. My professional goal was to give my Manager Trainee position at least a year to see if I would move up in the company. The first week after my one year anniversary I started looking for other jobs, knowing I had the skills to find an Assistant Manager position with another company. I happened to find Playworks that very same week and the rest is history. After meeting the training team, and going through the play interview process I was hooked. There was no turning back to the retail dark side, it was clear that it was time to PLAY!
What are some highlights of your program at your school?
Some of my favorite highlights from this year are:
Recess “Trick” wall; This is a wall at recess that I chalked for the kids to do tricks off of. It is a hit, and some of the kids really get into it with their 180 and 360 turns! It’s like Extreme Recess ESPN hollah!
Cougar News: We have a school news program that reports daily on school events, weather, Playworks, and important messages from the Principal. It rocks!
Copperview JC comic book: Yes it is true my Junior Coaches have their own school comic book that wraps around stories going on at recess. We are the Copperview JC Avengers and we have what we call the power of “recess swag”. Right now it is still only available as a comic book but we are hoping to get an issue or two animated.
These are just a few highlights from our school. If you live in SLC, I encourage you to volunteer and come out and play and you can experience many more at Copperview Elementary!
Could you outline your amazing approach to the Junior Coach program and how you empower and motivate your JC's to be recess rockstars?
For me the approach to having a successful program is to allow kids to take the lead with us, as Program Coordinators supporting their ideas full force. This year I promised myself that as good as it feels to be a rockstar coach, I needed to create a foundation that would support my JCs to shine brighter than myself. It is working because all of my Junior Coaches wear their stunner shades at recess because they shine so bright. Here is what I came up with as a plan over this past summer;
- Support- I needed to create support that would help my JCs feel comfortable to speak out about their ideas for our program. Kids need to feel supported and know that every idea that sparks inside their brain is important.
- Create a play family safe-zone- This is how we view our group as a whole when we unite for trainings. When we are together, it is a safe zone, a place where we can all share ideas, have fun, and embrace our play love for one another. No one is left out, everyone is included and everyone’s voice matters.
- Strong JC Training- JC trainings are my favorite times to spend with my JC’s. We play lots of games, talk about how school is going, and we usually follow the Playworks model. However, I like put a twist on everything I do, and we use time to also talk about what is going on at recess and what we are doing well, also what we can do better.
- Constant praise- When I see JC’s doing something amazing they are the first to hear it. Whether it is a high-5, a word, or a hug, my JC’s know how much they rock. Good days, bad days it does not matter. In my book, they are Kings and Queens of recess awesomeness. We also have a shout out wall where we leave positive notes to recognize one another!
- Stress relief- We are starting each meeting with a mindfulness practice this year. JCs work hard just like a PC. They need to learn how to manage their own stress levels and this is something new and improved and is going very well.
- Journaling- My JCs each have a journal in which they can share ideas, talk about stressors, anything that they feel is important. I read these journals and answer them back and it has been a great way to expand our communication.
- Superhero Theme- This year we have a Theme. We are the Copperview Avengers. We are all superheros and it is an amazing feeling. We also have our very own comic book.
All in all, my program has no limits and that is what I feel makes it a true success. When we all work together, share ideas, and feel included, it is amazing what we can achieve. Now if only the world could work a little more like this. Imagine the progress we would make!?
*Coach of the Month is a non-competitive award we give to our coaches to honor them for running amazing Playworks programs at each of their schools. Coach of the Month can’t be won, it can only be accepted.