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Superintendent’s Message: District 54 focusing on supports for junior high students

In our ongoing efforts in District 54 to care for the whole child, one of the areas we are looking at this year is the supports we provide to our junior high school students.

Of course, we want all students to do well academically. However, more importantly we care about their well-being. The first step in the process is identifying students who may need additional support.

We are introducing a new tool this year, known as a universal screener. Staff members will answer a series of questions for each of the students they serve. If the screener identifies any elevated risk factors for children, we will contact their parents so that we can work together to best support these children.

While the screener will be used for all ages, we know that as children enter their pre-teen and teen years, the challenges they face often grow. Did you know that more than one out of every five children reported being bullied (National Center for Educational Statistics 2016)? Or that suicide rates doubled among teen girls from 2007 to 2015, and rose by more than 30 percent among teen boys in that same time period (Centers of Disease Control and Prevention 2015)?

These are statistics we take seriously. We want to leave no stone unturned in our effort to support our students. We know that empowering our students to create the change we want to see in our schools is our best lever to minimize bullying, enhance our school climate and improve social-emotional outcomes for all students.

Every four to six weeks our junior high schools and Lincoln Prairie will have an assembly based on a theme that complements our social-emotional learning curriculum. District 54 is training Student Ambassadors from these schools to lead and champion this work. The themes are as follows.

  • September:  At our first assemblies in September speaker John Donahue talked to students about treating everyone with kindness.
  • October:  Kirk Smalley, of Stand for the Silent, will talk to our junior high students about the devastating harm from bullying. October is National Bullying Prevention Month.
  • November/December:  Students will attend an assembly from MWAH! (Messages Which Are Hopeful) designed to empower them with the knowledge, courage and strength to deal with life’s challenges. As a follow-up, Student Ambassadors will rally students around a service project and will also create school-based kindness experiences.
  • January/February: The focus will be on Digital Citizenship with a presentation from Eisenhower Social Worker Melissa Hemzacek.
  • March:  Once again, we are celebrating Happiness Month in District 54. Student Ambassadors will help lead positive psychology trainings for all students at their schools.
  • April/May:  At the end of the year, in conjunction with April being Community Service Month, schools will celebrate their service project work for the year.

Since our inception, District 54 has been committed to the social and emotional well-being of our students, as well as their academic success. We look forward to continuing that work this year during the school day and to collaborating with parents and the community to support our children.