Birchview Elementary School principal creates a culture of love for his students

ISHPEMING — On Valentine’s Day, we usually think about romantic love or about what gifts you purchased for your significant other. However, one local school is focused on a different kind of love, and not just on the 14th of February.

Birchview Elementary School Principal Matthew Byce is on a mission to create a culture of love for every student who walks through the halls. Byce has a three–tier approach to making sure that each child at Birchview Elementary knows that they are loved and cared for.

“That kind of starts on the surface level with some high fives or fist bumps or hugs in the hallway, smiling and waving at somebody, just letting the students know that you’re there and you love them,” said Byce. “And then there’s a deeper level that you can get on where you talk about their interests with them. You get on their level, whether you take a knee or crouch down to their level to have a conversation kind of heart–to–heart. Then we anchor it all with using the words ‘I love you.’ Every morning at the end of the announcements, I say, ‘If there’s nobody who’s told you today that they love you, Mr. Byce is here today telling you that he loves you.'”

In addition to that daily announcement, there is a 24–foot banner with the same sentiment hanging in the school’s busiest hallway. Pictures of each staff member at Birchview Elementary can be found beneath the quote. The banner hangs at eye level for most of the students, so it serves as a daily reminder to them of just how many people in this building love them.

Byce says he knows that some students may not be verbally told enough that they are loved. He says that a student feeling secure in the knowledge that someone loves them is foundational to their academic success.

“In order to reach their basic needs, I think that feeling loved, and a sense of belonging, is another really important, basic need that people have in order to then move on to the next step of being able to maybe learn some academics and move forward in life that way,” explained Byce.

Seeing the success of this culture in the school is exciting for Byce. He’s also thankful for the team of teachers, aids, and other staff members who have helped to promote this spirit of love at Birchview Elementary.

“It’s humbling,” said Byce. “I never really envisioned myself being an administrator until I had some administrators who kind of emulated this similar passion for loving kids. Seeing it at the building level and knowing that we’re having such an impact—not only on the students, staff have commented on it as well—we’ve had an impact on the community I think. And it’s not just me; it’s a team effort. Everybody here has really bought into it, and I think that’s what makes it so impactful.”

And the students at Birchview Elementary love Principal Byce right back. They write him notes and draw him cards letting him know that the feeling is definitely mutual. Some teachers have told Byce that while he’s wrapping up his morning announcements, many students eagerly await their turn to say “I love you” back to their principal.

“I don’t have any other news, so I’m going to end it the way I always do,” Byce tells them each morning. “And that’s by saying that if nobody’s told you today that they love you, Mr. Byce is here today telling you that he loves you. Let’s make it a great day.”