Making Today Count: The Power of Positive Relationships on Students’ Well-Being
The last several months of the school year flew by, and our students continued to flourish and grow academically, socially, emotionally, and physically. We had a wonderful graduation ceremony on Wednesday, June 5, for our Class of 2019.
As I reflect on these past several months, and identify special moments that encapsulate our year and set the scene for the next school year, a conversation with an articulate, enthusiastic elementary student comes to mind. During one of my visits to our elementary schools, a student proudly showed me his writing samples from September through May, speaking with astute seriousness about how his writing has grown throughout the school year. He explained in detail how his spelling skills, length of sentences, and vocabulary have improved. When asked how such progress was made, his endearing comment attributed his growth to the teacher who “gives us a lot of writing time,” and his grandmother who “makes me write at home, and says, ‘Every opportunity to write is an opportunity to write better than the last time’”. He then spontaneously began talking about his special relationship with his grandmother who “helps me to make the right choices about things.”
This conversation allowed me to further recognize the importance of a positive support system for students. This support system is paramount to helping build healthy students. A student’s home structure may involve people beyond the immediate family structure, including grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, close family friends, youth pastors, etc. This positive support system is the “community structure” surrounding the student.
My oldest son had the opportunity to spend a meaningful amount of time with my parents as he was growing up, and now, as a young adult, highly values that special relationship. When home from his post-secondary education in Pittsburgh, he often immediately tries to schedule time to visit with his grandparents. This warms my heart both as a parent and an educator. The power of family relationships is vital to students’ emotional and mental wellbeing.
As a district, we spent time this past school year in professional development at the Kindergarten-Grade 6 level on the topic of building positive relationships with students, particularly related to “trauma-informed education.” Our professional development focused on gaining knowledge about the negative impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on students’ learning, and the need for implementation of trauma-informed approaches to teaching. These Adverse Childhood Experiences, known as ACEs, involve experiences of neglect, abuse, chronic poverty, and other significantly adverse situations that negatively impact students’ mental, social-emotional, and physical wellbeing. Thus, students may struggle academically and behaviorally, causing issues with learning, social interactions, and mental and physical health development. When students come to school with these ACEs, there are approaches that we can use to meet their varied needs and build positive, sustainable relationships.
The need for trauma-informed approaches in schools is so important that recent Pennsylvania legislation (via Senate Bill 144) now requires school systems to provide training to school staff, administration, and School Board members in how to identify the signs and symptoms of student trauma. At Manheim Township, our trauma-informed training has already occurred at the Kindergarten-Grade 6 level during this past school year, as shared earlier. Our staff in the Grades 7-12 level will be trained this upcoming school year (2019-2020 year), along with the entire district administration and School Board members. Many staff members also gained knowledge about trauma-informed care through a district-wide book study using the text The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D. The content of the book had a profound positive impact on me. If you haven’t had the opportunity to read the book, you might want to add it to your summer reading list.
Enjoy the summer months, spending time together and rejuvenating your relationships with family and friends. I’m already looking forward to our 2019-2020 school year!
Our Employees of the Month
We have had three wonderful Employees of the Month during our last several months of the school year. They were recognized by the Board of School Directors at our public meetings. The first Employee of the Month was Mrs. Kelli Eachus. Kelli is a Reading Specialist at Reidenbaugh Elementary, and was nominated by her co-workers for being “such an asset to Reidenbaugh!” Her colleagues noted that “not only is she an amazing teacher, but always goes above and beyond to help the staff and the students.” At Reidenbaugh she coordinates the Literacy Olympics and the Books for Breakfast initiatives in order to keep a strong focus on literacy and families. They shared that Kelli is very patient, a great team player and always does everything she can for the “Reidenbaugh Hoppers.” She always has words of encouragement for others.
The next Employee of the Month was Ms. Jennie Steeley. Jennie is a World Language teacher at the Middle School. Jennie’s coworkers have shared that she goes above and beyond in both her role as a teacher and a member of our school community. She is deeply beloved by her students and colleagues, and is always looking for ways to serve others. Jennie makes learning French fun and engaging for students. Her colleagues state that “she is solution based – when something is not working, she comes up with a solution that can work for staff and students; she attends many student activities such as dances, Mini-thon, field trips, and zombie run.” Jennie consistently has a positive demeanor and others view her as a “great person to bounce ideas around with … She’s the best!”
The final Employee of the Month for our 2018-2019 school year was Mr. Brad Rhine. Brad is the Database Administrator/Webmaster at the District Office. Brad was nominated by his co-workers for being “a definite team player in the District Office; whenever anyone has a question or technology issue, Brad will stop what he is doing and help out.” Considering his role is web development and database and not technology support, he does not “bat an eye when someone asks for help on their software programs or hardware support.” He has helped to make things efficient, always ready to help others with a smile. Brad has assisted the District Office with various important projects outside of his job scope when needed. In addition, Brad redesigned the entire district website; there were many components of the website that included integrating new software programs into the website platform. His colleagues shared that “he is the guru that our building staff rely on for questions regarding the Sapphire program, district website, and other technology support items — Brad is well deserving of this accolade!”