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Keeping Kids Connected

April 4, 2007 by Dustin Swanson · 6 Comments · leadership

I started a discussion today in a staff meeting about a topic I feel pretty strong about; keeping kids connected to the school. The discussion went fine, although I didn’t really have time to get to the ‘heart’ of the issue and look at solutions. In our school of approx. 500 students, the majority are what you would say are ‘connected’. That is they have a strong sense of belonging and often show this through their involvement in both structured and unstructured extra-curricular activities , etc. However, there still remains a significant group of students who are not connected. Not surprisingly, some of these students exhibit academic, social, and behavior difficulties. So as an administrator, it’s not uncommon for me to deal with these students regularly.

So, I have two main questions about current secondary education. Firstly, what do we do about the kids who are not connecting? And, secondly, are the numbers of disconnected youth increasing? If so, how might we start addressing the issue? Is focusing on youth engagement a great first start? Okay, I guess that is more than two questions :)

A few years ago a group of administrators were part of the “revolution” group. It was a group aimed at examining these questions in more detail. A primary resource for our discussions came from an excellent Saskatchewan Learning resource . However, due to other priorities the group was dissolved for a portion of time. The good news is that recently our senior administration has decided to start discussions with interested teachers on the very topic. Needless to say, I’m excited by this prospect. This is not because I believe secondary education is ‘broken’. On the contrary, but by examining these questions I believe we can only strengthen our education system.
So, please help me out…what do you do to ‘connect’ kids? What is your district or school doing? How do you help ‘engage’ students?

6 Comments so far ↓

  • Dean Shareski

    Dustin,
    I spent some time today at your school with one of your P.E. teachers who talked about they way they are offering P.E. at 7AM and the flexibility they are affording students. I also heard her tell me about the evening dodge ball. I think these are clear steps toward making connections for kids. Being flexible with time and providing opportunities outside the regular/traditional classroom is something we need to continue to pursue.
    My visit a few weeks ago to the Saskatoon Cyber School also demonstrated ways to make school relevant and meaningful.

    There are ways you are already doing this but as you state, there is still more we can do.

  • Trev

    One of the things that we frequently discuss is the role that interpersonal relationships play in our school. A student being connected really means that they have had an opportunity to develop those valuable interpersonal relationships . . . particularly with a significant adult within the school. The challenging part isn’t identifying the students who aren’t connected, it is finding someone for them to connect with and then faciliating the connection. I think we need to find a way to systematically introduce disconnected students into situations where they can naturally develop connections ot others. I am trying to think out side the box here and am not having much luck . . . a manageable sized pod of students associated with each staff member, who meet on a regular basis . . .sounds a lot like a home room to me. What other things could be do that would faciliate this sort of situation?!

  • kwhobbes

    Dustin,
    It is something that we are always trying to improve. We have done some work with our timetable to offer a few “hands on” electives that we didn’t have before. Because we are a small school, we try to ask the students directly what it is that we can do to get them involved. We are in the process of doing a survey of students from gr’s 5 – 12 to find out what the school can do to engage them more. We are looking at expanding our SRC in hopes that it will offer a few more students input. I agree with Trev, we know who isn’t connected. We now need to find someway to get them connected. That’s the tough part. We’ve had a transition day that was successful although it didn’t grab all the students. But it was designed by the students for the students. However, sometimes the kids need to realize that they need to meet us. You can lead a mule to water but you can’t make it drink. Sometimes life and experience are better teachers than we can hope to be.

  • Dustin Swanson

    Thanks for the input – it is a significant struggle sometimes to help engage students. I agree with kwhobbes thoughts on SRC involvement and inviting students to design student activities. We have found similar successes.

  • dcollins

    I see two approaches to engaging the “lost ones”. The first approach is through programing and courses. The school I work at is small and so getting past the core courses is difficult. We’ve had some success by partnering with the local college to offer mechanics, welding and construction. This has made some our students see a reason for being involved in the other classes. The second solution deals with what I see as a bigger and more serious problem. There are students that are not a part of the “community” and “family” of the school. We have spirit days, intramurals, and other trips. Our most powerful have been class religious retreats for two or three days. But this still requires students to try to join the community. I would like to hear from some one who has implemented a successful peer – mentor program that reaches out to make contact with the lost ones.

  • Dustin Swanson

    Thanks for your comments dcollins. I’m aware of a few schools who regularly use a “retreat” approach for students. We have a school in our district that successfully uses a “family” program for structuring new students into larger cohorts when they enter grade 9. I really like the idea of having kids reach out to kids through peer mentoring – it reminds me of when we ask students what kind of speakers they want to hear. Inevitably, they say they want to hear stories from kids themselves, not adults.

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