Spring Lake High School staff recently wore “We Care” shirts as a visual representation of their committed effort to the school’s yearlong Whole Child Initiative — a focus on letting students know teachers care about their entire well-being not just academically, and to also provide a safe and supporting school, said Jen Boodt, a special education teacher and co-chair of the initiative.
Each month, students participate in activities aimed at breaking down barriers and helping students feel connected.
The idea stemmed from a trip Boodt took last year with a group of students to listen to national speaker Mike Smith. Although the students all attended Spring Lake High School, they didn’t know each other and participated in an activity to bridge that gap.
Students were given a list of questions to ask a partner before they switched to a new partner. As time grew, Boodt said students started to become more comfortable with each other.
Smith encouraged students to consider the type of legacy they want to leave. After listening to the speaker and gaining new friendships, students felt empowered and wanted to help spread the message to the rest of school, said Boodt.
Boodt and Laurie Draeger, a high school media specialist and co-chair of the initiative, applied for and received a $10,000 grant from the Spring Lake Schools Foundation toward the initiative’s activities.
“We need to make sure they know we care,” Draeger said.
Prior to the start of the school year, staff members reviewed Spring Lake’s results from the 2015 Ottawa County Youth Assessment Survey, and made it their focus this year to address the data in the report, Boodt said.
Students in eighth grade, and high school sophomores and seniors, took the 120-question anonymous survey that covers a variety of topics such as safety, bullying, violence, depression, relationships, school experience, community involvement, and alcohol, tobacco and drug use.
To aid in the efforts of caring for the whole student, staff took a suicide prevention training course — Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) — from TCM Counseling, and they learned more about healthy relationships from the Centers for Women in Transition.
Draeger said feeling cared about and supported needs to become an overarching culture that’s felt everywhere.
For the first student event, called “Face-to-Face,” classrooms split in half with other classes.
During the activity, students asked a partner questions such as “people who don’t know me, might describe me as this,” “Best childhood memory?” and “Top five things that make you happy.”
After a few minutes, students switched to new partners.
The purpose of the activity was to create a more caring environment, help break down barriers, and encourage students to talk to new people about who they are.
Following the event, about 95 percent of students reported they interacted with someone they hadn’t previously, and 80 percent of students indicated they wanted to do more of those types of activities, Draeger said.
The second activity addressed depression, and offered information about local agencies.
Next month, students involved in the International Baccalaureate’s Community Action Service are putting together a program about stress.
To accommodate the activities, Boodt said they make special time in the school schedule and students have provided positive feedback and thanked them for their efforts.
In March, the high school will host Smith with funds from the grant. They also plan to use the funds toward other activities.
As efforts continue throughout the year, Boodt said she believes it has the potential to grow.
“We have to help them know their value isn’t who they are academically,” she said.