Magazine article Techniques

Create a Positive School Culture That Stresses Personalization in Relationships

Magazine article Techniques

Create a Positive School Culture That Stresses Personalization in Relationships

Article excerpt

THIS ARTICLE IS THE THIRD IN A YEAR LONG SERIES THAT WILL MORE CLOSELY EXAMINE THE RECOMMENDATIONS MADE IN ACTE'S HIGH SCHOOL REFORM POSITION STATEMENT AND HIGHLIGHT BEST PRACTICES FOR IMPLEMENTING EACH OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS.

THE THIRD RECOMMENDATION IN ACTE'S high school reform position statement is to create a positive school culture that stresses personalization in relationships. In many communities, traditional social bonds are weakening, and today's youth need positive adult role models to encourage success.

According to a study of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, there are fewer adults in families today, more than one in four children are born into a single-parent home, and half of the current generation of children will live in a single-parent household during some part of their childhood. Considering these statistics, family and youth support becomes a critical component of helping students succeed during their high school years.

Schools remain one of the best opportunities for connecting youth and adults in positive ways, giving students the sense that they are valued and cared for, and reinforcing the message that whether they succeed or fail actually matters to someone. A system goal must be to help every youth become involved in structured activity that strengthens positive relationships with peers and adults and encourages the student's sense of confidence and belonging in school.

These activities could include advisory periods, smaller learning communities, co-curricular interest-based activities such as career and technical student organizations (CTSOs), or other activities that provide a positive adult relationship.

Positive relationships have long been a hallmark of many successful CTE programs, and many career and technical education programs from around the country are leading the way toward expanding personal relationships to all high school students.

Creating a Sense of Community

In an urban school district, just over 850 students may not seem like a large number, but in rural South Dakota, the 870 students enrolled in Sturgis Brown High School come from a geographic area that covers more than 3,200 square miles. Administrators and counselors were concerned about students who came to school but were not engaged in any activities and were not a part of the school community. They saw that this lack of engagement often led to increased dropout rates and lower student success.

As part of the High Schools that Work Initiative, school leaders had been exposed to the concept of advisories - a program that involves students being divided into small groups and assigned to a teacher that serves in an advisory capacity to those students during all four years of high school. In February of 2005, Sturgis Brown implemented advisories to help students feel more connected to the school. Coleen Keffeler, school-to-careers coordinator, said, "Advisories were started with the goal of helping students be more successful and better plan their high school career."

The schools' advisories, known as "Scooper Time" after the school mascot, meet every two weeks for 35 minutes. Students are grouped alphabetically by grade level, and groups of about 15 are assigned to each teacher and counselor. Administrators serve as substitutes and assist where needed during the program.

The mission statement for Scooper Time is "To facilitate personal and social growth through the integration of lifelong skill-building activities." Activities during each session focus on personal growth, academics, or careers and the future, and are geared to each groups' grade level. For example, freshman spend more time on study skills and test taking strategies, while seniors spend time getting ready for postsecondary education and gaining independent living skills that will be essential to life after graduation.

Engaging Teachers, Students and Parents

In addition to grade-specific activities, other Scooper Time sessions are focused primarily on engaging students. …

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