WORDS FROM THE SUP’T: Proactive approach to student support

Last month, I introduced you to five words that have been on my mind for a few months now. These five words represent Clarkston Community Schools’ collective values and intentions for young people in Clarkston. Every decision we make as a district will be guided by our commitment to create schools where students are: SAFE, SUPPORTED, HEALTHY, ENGAGED, CHALLENGED.

As I mentioned in September, I will be using this column to expand on each of these focal points and dig deeper into the “how” behind these ideals. Today, I want to share how children are SUPPORTED in our schools, particularly through our efforts to ensure a respectful learning environment for students.

As educators, our persistent and unwavering duty is to do right by our students. In light of the recent national dialogue about sexual misconduct, our school district, along with other schools across the country, is thinking deeply about how we can do more to support positive, healthy school cultures. Much is already being done in Clarkston Community Schools to promote the safety, health and well-being of our students. At the same time, we must approach this issue through the lens of continuous improvement, and that is our mindset moving forward.

School MUST be a safe environment for all students, and students must feel supported in our school community. As a sign of our commitment to our students, we are one of the only districts in Michigan to employ an administrator whose sole focus is on student mental health and safety. Staci Puzio, our Director of Student Growth and Well-Being, is working alongside our administration to educate staff, promote healthy behaviors in students, and support a respectful climate on our campuses. Our approach is multifaceted:

  1. Awareness
  • Our secondary staff has undergone training in recognizing signs of physical or emotional distress, depression, or anxiety that students may exhibit following a traumatic event.
  • To promote additional awareness, we are collaborating with parents and student groups to bring in a national expert on abuse prevention to speak with students, staff, parents, and community members.
  1. Education
  • We use age-appropriate language and programming to teach elementary students about respecting one another as individuals and expecting to be treated respectfully.
  • We discuss healthy boundaries and personal space, and we teach students that they are in control of their own body.
  • Our required health classes at the middle school, junior high and high school address the issue of consent, emphasizing that it is never okay to bully, harass, manipulate, intimidate, or force a person to do something he or she did not consent to. (We also underscore that silence does not equal consent.)
  • We will review and enhance our health and wellness curriculum, drawing upon the experiences of other schools (including universities) and the practices recommended by national experts in abuse prevention.
  1. Intervention
  • We teach students how to intervene if they are a bystander, and we encourage them to look out for one another in social situations.
  • We discuss with students the importance of telling a trusted adult such as a parent, teacher, or a counselor if any type of personal violation has occurred.
  • We are reinforcing with all staff who work directly with children the state’s mandatory reporting requirements, how to fulfill them, and the need to report, even if doubt exists.
  1. Support
  • All staff are empowered to respond to the immediate needs of any student in crisis. We also have social workers and guidance counselors on our campuses where students can seek help.

We will continue learning all we can from community partners and thought leaders about how to strengthen a culture of respect on our campuses. If you have questions about our approach to student health, safety, and wellness, my door is always open. In the meantime, thank you for all you do to support healthy attitudes and behaviors in Clarkston’s children.

Shawn Ryan is superintendent of Clarkston Community Schools