A Focus on School Climate
by the Chequamegon School District Guidance Department
The Chequamegon School District recognizes the importance of a school climate that fosters learning, healthy relationships, and a feeling of safety for all students. The CSD staff has been working very hard on these efforts and have implemented several programs that promote a climate in which all students feel comfortable, valued, accepted, and secure. Of course, this is an ongoing process and one that is always evolving and changing. Feedback from students helps to steer and direct these efforts so that we are focusing our energy on the immediate needs of the student body.
One major initiative that our district started three years ago is a program called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). This program is carried out district wide and follows these key ideas, which can be found at www.pbis.org: developing scientifically based behavior and academic interventions and supports, creating an environment that prevents problem behaviors, teaching and encouraging prosocial skills and behaviors. In a nutshell, this program rewards and encourages positive behaviors, while consistently and proactively works with students whose behavior needs improvement. Under the PBIS initiative, our district has put in place clear expectations for all students. These expectations are: Be here, Be ready, Be caring, Be respectful, Be safe. Students understand what is expected of them and are rewarded when they meet or exceed these expectations.
Building a positive school climate begins early in the elementary years and both elementary campuses of the Chequamegon School District focus a lot of time in this area. As educators we recognize the importance of promoting a positive school experience for all students so that they gain self-confidence and pride in their school, as well as a feeling of being connected with the community. We are in many ways setting them up for success in the later years of their schooling and hopefully as well adjusted adults.
Both Park Falls & Glidden Elementary schools teach a violence & bullying prevention curriculum called Second Step. These lessons are taught by the counselors during their guidance lessons. Second Step was implemented during the 2008-2009 school year. This curriculum focuses on empathy and communication training, bullying prevention, emotion management and coping, problem solving, decision making, and goal setting. The middle school curriculum also focuses on substance abuse prevention. With this understanding as educators, we are optimistic the program can and will positively impact our kids now and across their life spans.
In addition, classroom guidance lessons are provided that address students’ growth in the areas of academics, careers, and personal/social development. In the education field we know a lot of emphasis has been placed on academics and as educators we are accountable for making sure students leave our school with the best possible education they can attain. It is our responsibility to ensure this does indeed occur. We sometimes forget our students are also people and more importantly children. They need to learn strategies they can use to help with their studies and improve their academic capabilities. They also need to gain an awareness that someday they will need to get a job to support themselves and others. Lastly, it is important that students learn how to appropriately deal with problems when they arise in their lives. The guidance lessons address all these areas.
Other notable things occurring in the elementary are monthly pep assemblies being run as a way for students to get pumped up about their schooling experience and inform them of what areas we are doing well in and need to improve on. A movie was created about what our Eagle Expectations are and how we can follow them. This has been shown to the students, each teacher has a copy of it, and it is available for viewing on the school’s website.
As students get older and begin their middle school years, they spend more time learning to work together and to problem solve. Students in grades 6-8 participate in noon advisories. During this time, students are arranged in small groups with a teacher to have discussions and participate in activities that promote positive social interactions between peers and also enhance relationships between students and teachers.
There are two unique programs taking place in the middle school that promote positive interactions between peers. One is the Courage Retreat, which is a training that all sixth graders go through annually. With the help of Youth Frontiers and several Chequamegon High School students, these middle schoolers learn to have courage and stand up for what is right. The training uses games, music, discussion groups, and stories to help students see each other differently. Students are taught how to overcome their own fears and find the courage to stand up for those who are being picked on.
Natural Helpers is another great program that has been ongoing in the middle school for many years. Trained seventh and eighth grade students become resources for other students and help them deal with problems in a positive and appropriate way, as well as understand how to seek help from adults when necessary. The current eighth grade natural helpers group has recently developed a project titled SAVE, which stands for Students Against Violent Expressions. These students will be creating public service announcements and presentations/skits about being respectful to oneself and others.
Having positive mental health becomes more and more important as students head into their teenage years. At the middle school and high school level, counselors work with students individually and in small groups to work on social skills, conflict resolution and stress management. At both levels a suicide awareness program is implemented called Signs of Suicide (SOS). This is a nationally recognized program that gives teens a “depression check-up” as well as the knowledge to recognize depression if it occurs and tools to help them respond effectively. The program highlights the relationship between depression and suicide, teaching that suicide is, most often, a fatal response to a treatable disorder - depression. SOS teaches the action steps individuals should take if they recognize the signs of depression within themselves or in a friend: ACT: Acknowledge your friend has a problem, tell the person you Care, and Tell a trusted adult. A goal of the program is to develop healthier, better educated students and more prepared parents and staff when they are faced with symptoms of depression, suicide, and self-injury. In addition, this is a community-based tier III intervention under the PBIS model.
At the high school level, as students continue to grow and change, the counselor continues to provide individual and small group counseling as needed, as well as provide activities that emphasize positive interactions between students. The Student Advisory Team (SAT) goes through a program with the high school student body called Raising Student Voice and Participation (RSVP). Under this program the students participate in a series of class meetings where they identify issues in the school that need improvement. The SAT uses that information to plan activities throughout the year that will improve the areas that are identified.
Annually, a group of high school students take part in a training through Cornerstone Productions where they learn how to use drama to teach other students. Last year they created two skits that were presented to the staff, elementary and middle school students. One skit demonstrates the harmful effects of bullying, and the other showed the importance of interacting nicely with other kids on the playground. In December, another group of high school and middle school students will be participating in this drama training.
As high school students begin thinking more about their post-secondary plans, it is important that they are aware of their opportunities to plan a bright future. Beginning with a 4-year plan that originates in 9th grade and culminating with an individual meeting in September of their senior year, students and parents are given the tools to make appropriate choices regarding their post-secondary plans. These consistent contacts between the high school counselor, students and parents build relationships to ensure kids know where to access help when needed.
Our heath curriculum also plays a role in improving our school climate. Lessons that help to prevent student harassment and bullying teach students to respect themselves as well as others. Along with the curriculum, guest speakers from Time-Out shelter present valuable information on healthy relationships.
Another key player in promoting a safe school environment is our school liaison officer. Annually, our officer speaks to all of our students about making healthy choices regarding their interactions with others, as well as the effects of bullying. Having an officer on school grounds offers students another resource person for students, as well as an opportunity to report any bullying or harassment issues that arise.
As a district, we all want students to feel safe, happy and enjoy learning. Through all of these programs, as well as day-to-day interactions between students and staff, we hope that our school climate will continue to grow even stronger. Every report of harassment or bullying is addressed and taken very seriously with the hope that as students are guided through these situations, they are learning the appropriate ways to communicate and work out their conflicts in a peaceful manner.