It was raining with examples of kindness activities, anti-bullying initiatives, equity efforts and school climate improvement strategies as members of the Washington Township School District’s School Safety/School Climate team convened on Jan. 24 for a roundtable discussion on the district-wide “Building Better People” program.
The 14-person team includes representation from all educational levels and incorporates the expertise of student administrators, counselors, student assistance coordinators, student resource officers, teachers and parents. The goal of the team is to provide direction and oversight of the district’s equitable implementation of its “Building Better People” program and to ensure that the five competencies as outlined by the New Jersey Department of Education – self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making and social awareness – are being met by all students in all of the district’s 11 schools. Each school also has a building-level school safety/school climate team.
District director of school counseling Jennifer Grimaldi and middle school executive assistant principal Theresa Pietrowski oversee the efforts of the District School Safety/School Climate team. At the meeting, the group assessed the strides that have been made, at individual levels and district-wide, in these areas:
- No Place for Hate initiatives
- Building Better People experiences
- Social-emotional learning
- Anti-bullying initiatives
- Positive-based behavior programs
- Positivity project
- Student recognition program
The important work of both the building-level and District School Safety/School Climate teams is backed up with data that has identified the three biggest areas that lead to harassment, intimidation and bullying and adversely affect the culture of the building and the learning and teaching experience of students and staff. These three areas identified in Washington Township, not surprisingly, are the same three that lead the nation – appearance, race/origin and disability.
“This is the first year that we have had a district team to both monitor current activities and to brainstorm and communicate program recommendations going forward,” Grimaldi said. “All of our building teams are truly invested in the Building Better People initiative. It is our goal to have happy teachers and students in our schools. This meeting gave us the opportunity to come together, reflect on our successes, share wonderful ideas from around the district, and plan for future programming and implementation.”
“The members of our District School Safety/School Climate team are excited about the Building Better People program because they built it and they own it. It is not a canned program. The building teams can introduce developmentally appropriate programs that address specific issues that are important to them, while also incorporating district-wide points of emphasis.”
The district team recounted more than 120 activities that already have been introduced in the 2019-20 school year, almost double the efforts of last year under the former Olweus anti-bullying program.
“There has been a philosophical shift from assigning one day (i.e. the former Township Tuesday) to address social-emotional issues to now infusing these concepts on a daily basis, to build kindness and empathy into our days and to view every day through a social justice societal lens,” Grimaldi said.
Some examples of the daily successes include mindfulness activities in all the district’s elementary schools, diversity discussions at the middle level and peer leadership presentations at the high school.
“We are introducing the new PRIDE schedule at the high school next year,” Pietrowski said, “but we want everyone in our schools to know what the acronym PRIDE stands for – preparing, responsible, independent, diverse, exceptional students. This is the brand that we are systemically, creatively and successfully building for our district through the Building Better People program.”