Tolson Elementary School

a Title I school

Location: Tucson, AZ

Demographics: Over 500 children. Over 80% free or reduced lunch.

Success of NHA: no children at all diagnosed as ADHD and no new children on medications; one child suspended twice; 1% of student body utilizes Special Education – a drop from 15%; the Gifted and Talented Program has grown from nearly non-existent to over 15%; standardized test scores excelling from the worst in the district, teach attrition fallen to nearly 0% from a remarkable 50%.

Leadership: Dr. Maria Figeuroa, now serving as Director of Mexican American Student Services

Personal Statement from Dr. Figeuroa (2006):

Back in 2000, when I was appointed to Tolson Elementary School, no school-wide discipline policy or program was in place. Dealing with student discipline took up 75 percent of my workday. Students were not respecting each other on the playground or in the classrooms. Once the lunch recesses began at 10:30 a.m., there was a constant line of at least 15 students waiting their turn to meet the principal to receive their sentences (consequences) for hitting, cursing, racial slurring, or other infractions. Students were sent to my office for discipline without written referrals from lunch monitors and classroom teachers.

Many students and teachers expected the principal to physically remove students from the classroom when they refused to comply with teachers’ orders to go to the office. Students were accustomed to getting attention while being embarrassed in front of their peers and removed from their classrooms. Misbehavior was allowed to continue until it became extremely disruptive to both teachers and students.

With some available funds, I formed a discipline committee to come up with a school-wide discipline program. One of the teachers on that committee had heard of the Nurtured Heart Approach. Following some research, I found four programs that dealt with the issues we were facing at Tolson; the Nurtured Heart Approach was one of them. I purchased a copy of the book, Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach, along with three other books and articles.

Howard Glasser’s book was the only how-to book that really had a blueprint for teachers and parents on how to deal with difficult children in a respectful manner. This approach addressed the lack of respect and issues of due process we were experiencing at our school. The discipline committee ended up selecting the Nurtured Heart Approach as the guide and format for our school’s discipline plan.

It was through serendipity and research that I found out the designer of this approach, Howard Glasser worked and lived in Tucson. After the school staff read the book, I invited Howard to speak to teachers and parents at Tolson. (He has been a guest speaker at Tolson on several occasions, and we purchase his book to give to our new teachers and parents.)

While the committee did their homework and held meetings on all four proposed discipline programs, I began to implement the Nurtured Heart Approach at home with my then three-year-old son. He was a prime candidate for the ADHD label. He was all over the place in his school, and all the adults had problems controlling his behavior. I was even told by a teacher’s assistant in his school that I should take him to the doctor because he might be autistic. At work, I constantly reminded teachers not to encourage parents to take their children to the doctor when they were having behavior issues. Now, as the tables turned and my child was the one being given a diagnosis by a teacher, I felt even more committed to a shift both at work and at home.

I had success at home using the Nurtured Heart Approach with my son and was pleased when the school’s discipline committee selected this approach. A few other teachers in our school also had success using the Nurtured Heart Approach at home with their children. One year after the approach had been used consistently by all the adults at Tolson, I decided to enroll my own son in this school. Almost every teacher on staff has done the same with their children and grandchildren.

At Tolson, the teachers and I worked together to create a discipline plan and procedures that mirror the Nurtured Heart Approach philosophy. Howard [Glasser, Creator of NHA] assisted us in wording our school rules and creating consequences that would show students exactly what is expected of them. Adults and students alike expect discipline with due process, consistency, respect and no chances but consequences. When substitute teachers break one fo the Nurtured Heart rules, students let us know. Each year the entire Tolson staff reads or re-reads the book Transforming the Difficult Child. We have channeled all our energy into giving attention to students when they are behaving in appropriate, acceptable ways. We also created “praise notes” that all adults give to students to recognize them for their hard work, effort and acceptable behaviors.

I find that when the Nurtured Heart Approach is implemented in a building, adults begin to show respect for students and their adult colleagues. The approach has made Tolson a wonderful place to work; our teacher attrition rate stabilized to less than one percent for four years in a row.

Reprinted from The Inner Wealth Initiative – The Nurtured Heart Approach in Education (2006)


% of Diagnosis (ADD, ODD, Autism, etc): High percentage of children (accurate statistics are not available) were referred for ADHD assessments and were put on medications.

Recidivism (repeat suspensions, incarcerations, foster care displacements, etc): Eight times the number of school suspensions as the next worst in this category among over 60 other elementary schools in the district.

Special Education Utilization: 15% of student population utilizes Special Education

Gifted Program: nearly non-existent

Standardized Test Scores: Worst in the district

Teacher/Staff Attrition: 50%

Student Attendance: N/A (poor)

Major Challenges: Tolson Elementary serves the poorest students in Tucson. Tolson had the lowest test scores, highest teacher attrition, and a student population that suffered high levels of formal disciplinary action, mental health referrals and need for special education.


Date of Inception of NHA: 1999

Primary NHA Trainer/Implementer: Howard Glasser

% of Staff Trained in NHA: 100%

New Mental Health Referrals or prescribed medications: no children at all diagnosed as ADHD and no new children on medications

Discipline & Recidivism: there has only been one child suspended twice

Special Education Utilization: 1% of student body utilizes Special Education – a drop from 15%

Gifted Program: In counter-balance, the Gifted and Talented Program has grown from nearly non-existent to over 15%

Standardized Test Scores: Excelling-positive progress

Teacher/Staff Attrition: Fallen to nearly 0% from a remarkable 50%

Student Attendance: Remarkably higher

Notable Results: Tolson Elementary reports a strong increase in their ability to positively impact the parent communities they serve.

Dr. Figeuroa, Now the Director of Mexican American Student Services, has become a NHA Advanced Trainer and continues to inspire NHA in her community.


Synopsis: Tolson Elementary School in Tucson Arizona, a Title I school of over 500 children (80% free or reduced lunch) has shown remarkable progress since beginning a school-wide Nurtured heart Approach intervention in 1999. Prior to that, in addition to multiple indicators of a sub-standard learning environment, many children were referred for ADHD assessments and were put on medications.

The year prior to adopting the Nurtured Heart Approach, Tolson Elementary had eight times the number of school suspensions as the next worst in this category among over 60 other elementary schools in the district. Since the implementation of NHA there has only been one child suspended twice, no children at all diagnosed as ADHD and no new children on medications.

Special education utilization has dropped from 15% to 1%. In counter-balance, the Gifted and Talented Program has grown from nearly non-existent to over 15%.

Teacher attrition was well over 50% per year and now teachers quitting the field or requesting transfers has fallen to nearly 0% and there is no longer the high rate of teachers calling in sick on Friday’s and Monday’s. Student attendance is also now dramatically higher.

Best of all, the school has gone from the worst in district as measured by standardized test scores to excelling – having dramatic and continuing positive progress.

This data is in keeping with a growing body informal observations noted when this approach has been applied in other school-wide applications.

Reflections from Howard Glasser, Founder NHA:
Tolson is a poor school that’s built extensive Inner Wealth that now shows up in children who are great learners, wanting to participate vividly, wanting to behave well, wanting to get assignments done and wanting to excel on tests. I love looking into the eyes of a child who is being appreciated for their great qualities and watching the activation begin. Children who come to feel great about who they are begin to manifest greatness in every aspect of their lives. Teachers at Tolson love being there now because they can relish the dream they are living of imparting wisdom and knowledge and inspiring greatness.

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