AMESBURY — Students returned to classes last week and the principal of Cashman Elementary School began her sophomore year.
Karina Mascia-Fayles came to the district at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year after eight years with Newburyport Public Schools, where she served as the assistant principal of Francis T. Bresnahan Elementary School.
Having a system in place to teach social and emotional learning was the first item on Mascia-Fayles' agenda when she took the principal's job in Amesbury.
She then initiated the Positive Behavioral Intervention System, which is designed to give students more cultural and enrichment opportunities, thanks in part to a $4,600 grant from Amesbury Educational Foundation Inc.
"If your passion is art, if your passion is music or elsewhere than just in the schoolbook, you can still be a very successful student and become a very successful adult," Mascia-Fayles said. "That doesn't mean that you are not going to have to go through the educational system, but I wanted to inspire the students."
Mascia-Fayles, a native of Brazil, added that her inspiration also came with an interest in stressing core values such as safety, kindness and responsibility.
"We want to make sure we provide a safe environment to all students, at all times," Mascia-Fayles said. "Regardless of where you come from, once you get here, the expectation is one and the same for all."
Students are also given a chance to practice their safety and kindness skills before an appreciative audience.
"School and education reversed the attention on the positive, so show me what is expected and you are rewarded by getting attention for the positive things that you are doing versus discipline, where you are getting attention because you are the naughty kid," Mascia-Fayles said.
The student population at Cashman has become very diverse in the 21st century, according to Mascia-Fayles.
"We currently have kids from China, South America, in both the Spanish end as well as the Brazilian end, where the language will be Portuguese," she said. "We have had other students from other countries like India, Turkey and all of that. So, we are very diverse in culture but also very diverse in economic status. I feel like we run the whole gamut and the numbers are pretty significant at every level."
Focusing the school's attention on the positive helps to bring a diverse population closer together, according to Mascia-Fayles, who is 44.
"I've made a point of teaching the kids how to say, 'Good Morning' in all kinds of different languages," she said. "We feel like we are really inclusive. Everyone is a part of this, we are a big family, or a village that is here to celebrate the great things that are happening and, hopefully, those things translate to the home."
Students must be engaged to become avid learners, according to Mascia-Fayles, a Salisbury resident.
"Students have to find a purpose for coming to school so you can grab their attention while they are here," Mascia-Fayles said. "My goal is really to get to a point where we do have the ability to say, 'OK, you love art, so I'm going to give you an extra 40 minutes of your week to really make you look forward to coming to school because you are going to get to do what you really love.'"
Superintendent Jared Fulgoni said Mascia-Fayles has brought a unique focus to her job.
"Her energy and enthusiasm has really helped to advance the culture and the climate at the Cashman Elementary School," Fulgoni said. "She brings with her a purposeful sense of educating the whole child as opposed to the traditional reading, writing and arithmetic. She values the arts and their exploration. She really wants students to find a passion for what they want to do."
Mascia-Fayles said her positive behavioral intervention system would not be a success without the work of her teachers.
"The students have really bought into it, I am so grateful to my teachers for really taking it seriously," Mascia-Fayles said. "As a principal, I can say, 'Let's do this' as much as I want. But, if my teachers are not behind me, then it goes nowhere."
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.