Boulder Valley School District

Building relationships to create a more inclusive and safe environment

Randy Barber

“I’m hoping that in the future every kid will feel just as included as every other kid,” said Karen Meyers, a BVSD parent, at the recent Equity Summit where community stakeholders discussed issues around equity in BVSD.  “They shouldn’t feel like they are in a special category. Everyone, as an individual, is just as included and accommodated.”

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)  is one of the top district priorities this year and schools are excited. 

“Schools have really hit the ground running on this. Many have been implementing SEL programs for years, but they are excited that the district has elevated it to a top priority this year,” said BVSD Director of Multi-Tiered System of Support(MTSS) and Gifted Services, Maia Jourgensen.

At the end of the 2017-18 school year, schools did a culture and climate walk-through of their buildings, during which a team walked around the school with a look-for tool. This year schools have evaluated their data and selected an area of focus based on those walk-throughs. The key thread in all of them is building relationships.

“Building relationships is really key to making students feel safe and comfortable in their school environments,” Jourgensen stressed.

To foster relationship building during the challenging transition to middle school, Broomfield Heights Middle School has launched an adult advocacy program.

“At an elementary school, students (and parents) have a single point of contact -- the classroom teacher. That disappears at the middle level. We have aimed to bridge that gap by assigning each student an adult advocate,” said Broomfield Heights Middle School Principal Chris Meyer.

Students meet with their adult advocate during scheduled advocacy times. In these themed meetings, students and advocates can discuss issues ranging from determination to respect to stress management, or whatever needs the students may have. While the school does have counselors, this advocacy program allows a closer connection as each advocate is assigned about 14-16 students.

“Parents and students have given very positive feedback so far. It is so important, especially at the middle level, for students to have a trusted adult they can talk to, and that’s what we’re aiming for here,” emphasized Meyer.

Boulder High school has launched a similar initiative, although more targeted to students who are struggling.

“We really started looking at the data last year,” said Boulder High Assistant Principal Kristen Lewis. “We were tracking all the students with two or more failing grades and thinking, ‘how can we do more to help these students?’ But also, what is working that we can build on?”

Lewis shares that a teacher on their Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) team (a team dedicated to looking at supporting students on a regular basis) talked about a student they had in their class and how the teacher would take time on planning periods to meet with the student, check all their class assignments, have lunch study periods, go above and beyond. 

“That one relationship with that teacher changed the kid’s trajectory in school,” says Lewis.

And so launched the exciting new mentorship program at Boulder High this year. Six weeks in they have about 100 out of 120 staff members signed up.

“This has to happen organically,” said Lewis. “It can’t be mandated or reluctantly done. The purpose is to be their trusted adult. Every kid should have one trusted adult.”

Lewis said she will be pulling the data on the students with two or more Fs and check in on their progress, as well as survey mentors to see how they are doing and what’s working. 

Gathering and reviewing data is also a top district priority and, in the SEL realm, it has brought back the school climate survey, which will be administered to all students starting at the end of October.

“It is so important to have information directly from students about the climate in their schools. A critical piece of safety is ‘do you have an adult you can talk to, are you being bullied or struggling.’ This survey will bring that all to light,” hopes Jourgensen.

BVSD with the support of the Board has also taken a key role in supporting students’ emotional needs by launching the elementary school counselor program -- 10 full-time counselors were hired last year and an additional 10.5 counselors were hired this year. The hope is to have further expansion next year as well.

“Our ultimate goal is that we are able to provide each building with a comprehensive elementary school counseling program,” said BVSD Director of Student Support Tamara Lawrence. 

“The school counselors are working with each building to determine the needs of that community and supporting each building by running small groups, delivering SEL curriculum, supporting teachers and teams on SEL and student needs.”

“It is so great that SEL is such a high priority this year for the district, supporting and elevating the work that has already been started in schools at all levels," said Jourgensen. “Building relationships is a crucial piece to ensuring student safety and emotional security.” 


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