Column: Improved school climate a priority each year at Worthington Middle SchoolWORTHINGTON - One of our resolutions every year at Worthington Middle School is to continue to improve our school climate. School climate can be defined as “an orderly environment in which the school family feels valued and able to pursue the school’s mission free from concerns about disruptions and safety.”
By: Jeff Luke, District 518, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Happy New Year! I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays and that you are still living up to your resolutions for 2009.
One of our resolutions every year at Worthington Middle School is to continue to improve our school climate. School climate can be defined as “an orderly environment in which the school family feels valued and able to pursue the school’s mission free from concerns about disruptions and safety.”
Having worked at Prairie Elementary for the past six years, I was concerned — right along with 150 new students — about fitting into the middle school when the school year began. I have been extremely impressed by all of the things that were already in place to help students and staff feel welcome and valued. Our middle school subscribes to a philosophy that the unique needs of students in grades 6-8 can best be met in a middle school setting that provides a student-centered program and recognizes that the students of this age are undergoing greater physiological, psychological and social re-orientation than at any other period in their lives.
One of the biggest changes for students entering the middle school is no longer having that homeroom class and teacher that you keep coming back to throughout your day. Now, a student has to manage an eight-period day and store their things in a locker in the hallway. To help with this, we start our day with an Advisory Period during which every teacher in the building has only 12-15 students. This provides an opportunity to really get to know this group of students and advise them about a wide variety of topics. It is also our hope that students will build a connection with this teacher so that they have someone they know and trust. It is also the responsibility of this teacher to be the primary contact with parents. Teachers have a big responsibility during their Advisory Period. While they certainly don’t get to all of the following things every day, they are expected to touch on them sometime during the course of a week: take attendance, daily announcements, character education, view a news program on television that is geared to our students, discuss mid-term and quarterly grades and participate in challenges with other Advisory classes. Challenges are contests and games that teachers come up with to promote sportsmanship, teamwork and seeking a common goal with your classmates.
We also provide numerous clubs, athletic teams, orchestra, band and choir to teach the whole child. We also have our Renaissance Program, which is designed to celebrate academic achievements of our students. A big part of the philosophy of any middle school is to provide opportunities for students to explore a variety of experiences while making the transition from elementary to high school. All of our clubs, teams and musical groups take in everyone who wishes to participate. We don’t play to win, we play to learn from the experience and build better people for the future.
Middle school students are extremely social individuals. It is perfectly natural for them to want to spend more time with their friends than with their families at this stage of their life. We do our best to provide some of this social time during our school day. Many students arrive 15-25 minutes before the first bell rings in the morning. This is a chance for them to walk around or hang out with their friends. They have a 30-minute lunch period during which they eat and then have a chance to go to the gym or outside for recess. While passing time between classes is only three minutes, students are able to cover a lot of ground and still find time for a quick conversation by their lockers.
Beyond the classroom we have a number of support staff for students, parents and teachers to turn to for guidance, including the following: counselor, social worker, school psychologist, school nurse, attendance officer, bilingual parent liaison, school resource officer and two administrators. We are well connected with the county’s Family Service Agency and Southwest Mental Health. All of these people have been trained and educated in the development of children and are experts in their areas. A group of us meets weekly to discuss individual students who might be having difficulties at school or home and make a plan to help serve that child.
At home, you can even help with our environment at school and in the community. Teach your children to say please and thank you, to hold the door open for someone, to greet people with a smile or a simple hello. If they bump into someone they should say excuse me, if they need help they should ask. Provide your child with opportunities to socialize with their friends, and — most importantly — get to know their friends and their parents so that you know they are with people who are going to make them feel good and make good choices.
Along with all of these planned and required things we have going on to improve the climate at our school, there are many things that happen all the time with no direction whatsoever. Worthington Middle School is a building full of caring adults that know how to interact with adolescents. They are people who truly care about the whole child. Those of us in education hear it all the time, “I could never do what you do,” and they are right, they couldn’t. It takes a caring, patient, well-educated person to work with our youth.I would invite you to stop out to Worthington Middle School on a Tuesday morning and visit with our volunteer greeters and to see some of the great things that are happening. You, too, could help with building our school climate!
Jeff Luke is assistant principal at Worthington Middle School.