May 15, 2021

Two Newton elementary schools receive national recognition

Aurora Heights, Emerson Hough earn high honors for Capturing Kids’ Hearts

For another consecutive year, two elementary schools in Newton received national recognition for focusing on “social-emotional wellbeing, relationship-driven campus culture and student connectedness” in their buildings.

Principals of Aurora Heights Elementary School and Emerson Hough Elementary School announced April 26 their campuses were designated Capturing Kids’ Hearts National Showcase Schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

Only seven Iowa schools were awarded the honor this year. Aurora Heights has earned the recognition three years in row; Emerson Hough has been named a national showcase school for four years.

Jim Gilbert, principal of Aurora Heights, said it is the third year in a row the campus achieved this recognition. Jolene Comer, principal of Emerson Hough, said this is the fourth year the campus has been awarded this recognition.

Other winning Iowa schools include: Central Elementary School of Nevada, Johnston Middle School, Lenox Junior-Senior High School School and Wayne Elementary School and Wayne Junior-Senior High School of Corydon.

Across the United States, more than 3,000 schools applied to become a National Showcase School. Of those applicants, 362 schools were selected.

Because of the pandemic, Aurora Heights Principal Jim Gilbert said the vetting process was different. However, campus visits and evaluations from one of the Capturing Kids’ Hearts regional representatives/trainers did still take place.

“We’re happy also to report (the representative) indicated there are two schools in Iowa that would next school year like to come to our campus and take a look at what we’re doing,” Gilbert said. “That serves as a shoutout to my staff.”

The Aurora Heights principal commended his faculty’s willingness to develop relationships with students, parents and their fellow staff. That, he said, makes for a “safe and effective learning environment.”

Jolene Comer, principal of Emerson Hough, was also proud of her staff’s work to achieve this award, especially during the challenging year of COVID-19. It was difficult to build relationships in virtual settings, she said.

Comer commended her staff’s efforts to make sure the focus was still on building those relationships and the processes involved with Capturing Kids’ Hearts. The Emerson Hough principal wants staff to celebrate their “big honor.”

She added, “Next year I really want to keep a renewed focus on Capturing Kids’ Hearts and also looking at how we can integrate some of the work that we do.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or

Christopher Braunschweig

Reporter with a strong penchant for community journalism.