SBHS and Climate Commitee members Leah Soule, Ars Sambou, and Asha Fuad

SBHS Climate Committee Forecasts Improvements

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Thursday March 28, 2013

We can forecast the weather, but we cannot control it. “School Climate,” on the other hand, is something the SBHS Climate Committee is studying how to control after revealing the results of its survey of the school’s environment and how it affects the well-being of students, parents, and school personnel. After all, a measure of academia is not the only component of school success (or failure).

According to the National School Climate Center, school climate is defined as the “quality and character of school life. School climate is based on patterns of experience of school life and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures.”

The SBHS Climate Committee, formed in spring 2011, is composed of SBHS students, staff, and parents. Together, they encourage open dialogue in hopes of improving the school’s environment and the health of those who walk its halls.

Last year, the committee conducted a survey study in which students, staff, and parents/guardians were asked a number of questions about safety, teaching and learning, interpersonal relationships, and institutional environments. In addition to those categories, the staff was asked to rate leadership and professional relationships.

Eighty-three percent of the students (731), all the staff (135), and almost 38 percent of the parents (333) participated in the survey. The results revealed that most categories received high ratings. The median scores and rating patterns of all surveyed showed confidence in rules, norms, and respect for diversity, as well as social support (students and adults) and physical security, but even the best schools have their weaknesses. What is the Achilles tendon for SBHS? Social-Emotional Security (Category: Safety) and Social and Civic Learning (Category: Teaching and Learning) hovered in the neutral range.

All surveyed agreed that the ratings for Sense of Social-Emotional Security were unsatisfactory. Within this category, 53 percent of students were neutral and 18 percent were negative. Forty-seven percent of parents were neutral and nine percent were negative. If many of the parents surveyed were parents of students surveyed, nine percent of students’ parents do not know the extent of their child’s insecurity at school. School personnel rated 45 percent neutral and five percent negative in this category.

Interestingly, 70 percent of students were less confident that they were exposed to Social and Civil Learning in the classroom (15 percent labeled that category as negative), whereas school personnel and parents ranked the same category in the positive range, 53 percent and 75 percent, respectively.

The survey results led the Climate Committee to organize the next phase of discussion. On March 20, three SBHS seniors welcomed the crowd to a potluck where students, parents, and staff were invited for constructive discussion, including commending the high marks of the survey, analyzing why some categories scored low, and brainstorming solutions. The students also shared how the Climate Committee has helped shape their personal agenda to make school a safer, healthier place.

“The Climate Committee gave us a voice to express ourselves,” said Ars Sambou. The committee’s goal is intended to “Find new ways to make this work and make our school safe for those who are going to come after us.”

Seniors Asha Fuad and Leah Soule also monitored the event and spoke on behalf of the student body.

“I feel it’s really important that everyone feels noticed, visible, accepted, and safe in a school, and I feel that’s what the Climate Committee really works toward,” Soule said.

Participants split into four groups, and each table was assigned with a Climate Committee member facilitating the workshop. They enjoyed a feast of pasta and greens before cutting to the chase.

All the groups zoned in on Sense of Social-Emotional Security. Why did this “sense that students feel safe from verbal abuse, teasing, and exclusion,” rank lower than, for example, Sense of Physical Security?

Suggested causes included fear of change, not sharing a similar background with or knowledge of fellow students, stereotypes about personal appearance (i.e., clothing), and the size of the school.

Sometimes, exclusion is set up by activities intended to promote inclusion, such as sports teams and clubs.

“When we have different sports teams [and levels] like Varsity and JV, we are already excluding different people without even knowing it,” Fuad said. “Someone’s part of the school band. If someone doesn’t play an instrument and all your other friends play instruments, what are you going to talk about?”

Making the school “smaller” by breaking students out into small groups and participating in non-competitive activities was one tactic offered to overcome the exclusion barrier. This could include community service projects where the focus is on  someone else, resident Tim Barritt shared from his group discussion.

Offering a more diverse curriculum--including a stronger emphasis on world history and geography--may also create a more positive atmosphere.

Everyone has a story, one parent of a SBHS student said. Having students share their stories in a safe environment should help minimize uninformed or judgmental statements.

This sense of exclusion may be linked to students who believe that they are not being challenged socially and civically. Leveled classes have a structural rationale, but students who fall short of higher level classes may feel defeated. Multi-grade classes could create the same aura for juniors and seniors seated in the same room as freshmen and sophomores.

Less busy work and more critical thinking was suggested as a potential improvement; the students nodded in agreement with that statement. Students should find relevance in lesson plans that will carry through their years of academic growth and beyond. How will assignments aid students in preparing for the “real world?”

Discussion of support groups and individual education programs for each student provided additional food for thought.

At its conclusion, Soule stated that the Climate Committee will collate the points raised for discussion, send out additional survey questions to staff and parents, and re-convene later in the academic year to formulate Action Plans. The date is to be announced, and all are welcome. To view the survey results, visit the SB School District site, click on the High School, then find the tab for the Climate Committee.

“I think it went really well,” Fuad said of the meeting. “It was really nice to see the parents’ side of it, and for them to see the students’ side of it, and also for teachers to understand.”

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent