BATTLE GROUND — Students at Chief Umtuch Middle School made it clear in their feedback — they wanted more responsibility and opportunities to be directly involved with shaping the culture of their school. Students provided the feedback on a bi-annual Healthy Youth Survey that measures health behaviors in Washington youth.
Armed with the knowledge that their students wanted to be more involved, Principal Beth Beattie and Assistant Principal Matt Kesler collaborated with the school’s teachers and developed several new groups and activities to support a variety of student interests and provide multiple opportunities for students to be heard.
“It was apparent that giving our students more ownership and responsibility was an ideal way to strengthen their connection to the school,” Beattie said. “It’s important for our students to have a voice and to know that their voice is being heard.”
Chief Umtuch Middle School’s efforts are helping the Battle Ground Public School district to reach its social-emotional goals of providing a variety of activities that enhance the educational experience and supporting and promoting the well-being of students.
“Chief is a great example of a school that has listened to its students and provided supports that meet them exactly where they are,” said Sandy Mathewson, the district’s director of social-emotional learning.
When it comes to implementing successful social-emotional learning programs and supports, providing multiple avenues for student voice and engagement is key. At Chief, students have five new groups in which to help make a difference at their school: Chief Positive, Sources of Strength, Yearbook Crew, Green Team and Prevention Club.
One group, Chief Positive (Chief+), supports the district’s efforts to implement Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in schools. PBIS is a system that helps support staff and students by creating predictable, consistent, positive and safe schools. The students in Chief+ work with sixth grade teacher Jim Thompson, who is the school’s PBIS lead, to create activities and policies that recognize students who are “caught” doing the right thing.
“Chief Positive has three main messages — be safe, be engaged and be respectful,” Kesler said. “Students in Chief Positive spread this message throughout the school and help us find ways to acknowledge students in ways that are most meaningful and impactful to them.”
Sources of Strength, or SOS, is the largest group on campus. The 80 student leaders and eight adult mentors help communicate ways for students to be resilient, even after adverse childhood experiences. SOS takes an innovative, upstream approach to prevention by focusing on strengths, resiliency and connectedness rather than risk factors, warning signs and sources of trauma.
The mission of SOS is to change unhealthy norms and culture, ultimately preventing suicide, bullying, and substance abuse by increasing help-seeking behaviors and promoting connections between peers and caring adults. The SOS students at Chief lead assemblies and organize school spirit weeks, among other activities.
In addition to SOS and Chief+, the school also has a Yearbook Crew with about 20 participating students; a Green Team with 12 students; and Prevention Club with 45 students. The Green Team helps with school recycling projects and recently conducted a school-wide trash and recycling audit to identify areas of potential improvement. Prevention Club is focused on promoting healthful behaviors and educating students about the dangers of drug, alcohol and tobacco use.
When students first provided survey feedback that they wanted to have more responsibility in their school, the sole student group on campus was the Associated Student Body (ASB). This group consisted of 16 students who helped shape school culture by organizing and running school assemblies and other social functions such as school dances. With the addition of the five new groups, more than 130 students actively participate in shaping their school culture.
“These new clubs help students feel engaged and give them a renewed sense of ownership at their school,” Beattie said. “Each and every student should know that they belong here at Chief, and these new clubs are a huge step in the right direction.”
This information was provided by the Battle Ground School District.