North Summit School District’s I SWEAR initiative helps struggling students
It has always been Superintendent Jerre Holmes’ priority to ensure that every student in the North Summit School District is looked out for and feels included. He stressed it while principal of North Summit High School eight years ago, and has reminded the school’s administrators every year to reach out to those in need.
But last year, he launched a district-wide initiative so that everyone was on the same page. I SWEAR, which stands for inspire students with empowering adult relationships, pairs teachers with students who are struggling with anxiety, depression, limited support at home or other issues affecting their ability to thrive in school. Teachers are tasked with regularly checking in on the students and discussing the students’ needs with a group that meets monthly.
Holmes said the nationwide push for schools to focus on mental wellness encouraged him to get the initiative off the ground. Last school year, he formed a team of principals, counselors and other district employees to light the spark at their individual schools. The leaders then asked teachers to come up with a list of students who needed extra help, said Devin Smith, assistant principal at North Summit High School.
Teachers, office staff, custodians and lunch servers then selected the students they committed to reach out to.
“Take a kid and have a conversation with that kid,” said Brett Richins, principal of North Summit Middle School.
Barbara Ericksen, a counselor at the middle school, said the goal is to “let every kid know that they are not invisible.”
But the initiative can also evolve as teachers become aware of the needs of students. Last year, a teacher started a Spanish club to try to help students become more involved in the school, Richins said. Smith said some teachers have visited with the parents of the struggling students to talk about their grades or other concerns. Sometimes, the teachers meet with the students once a week to help them with homework or ask them how they are doing.
“For a lot of kids, that has made a big difference,” Richins said.
Since teachers started talking with students, Holmes said they became aware of situations they might not otherwise have known, such as students having an emotional crisis. Then, the teachers could provide appropriate resources for the student.
Richins said the initiative has helped the teachers better understand their students. One teacher, he said, told him he needed to change the way he thought about a poor-performing student after learning what he was going through.
It is not always easy to help the students overcome their battles, though, and Richins said there were some problems that teachers were not able to help solve. But teachers are continuing to help students this year as the initiative grows at each of the schools.
Ultimately, Holmes and other administrators hope I SWEAR becomes second nature to teachers so every student is accounted for. While they know not every student is going to graduate with top grades, even small gains count.
“The power behind it is kids know that we care about them,” Richins said. “Yes, we want them to succeed academically, but we want them to feel safe, we want them to have friends, we want them to know that we care and that they have a place.”
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The Park City Board of Education is on track to place a bond on the ballot this fall to improve district facilities. The top priorities would be to put ninth grade in the high school, eighth grade in the middle school and to augment preschool offerings by expanding elementary schools.