Premier's Safe Schools Awards: 2011/12 Awards recipients

2011/12 Premier's Safe Schools Awards recipients

Abbey Park High School, Oakville
Halton District School Board

Creating a Caring Student Environment
Abbey Park High School wanted to increase awareness among staff and students about its plans to help students feel safer at school. The safe schools team realized, though, that to be effective, the initiatives needed to be consistent, sustainable and draw on strategies that the students themselves helped to develop.

With help from staff and students, the following programs were developed:

  • The “Link Crew” paired new Grade 9 students with senior students in a two-day intensive leadership summer training course to prepare new students for the fall. It is maintained throughout the year with additional Link Crew-led initiatives that include classroom lessons and social events.
  • The iReach pilot program for Grade 10 students promoted student engagement through various school-wide events and stressed the importance of the school's seven key character attributes: integrity, respect, responsibility, empathy, acceptance, citizenship and honesty.
  • The “Caring Adult program” was developed by staff to help identify students at risk of “flying under the radar.” This included students who were socially isolated, bereaved or under academic stress. Students were paired with a staff member who would work with them to ensure that they felt connected, happy and safe at school.

These activities have benefited the school on many levels, in terms of its academics and its overall school climate. The school administration has issued far fewer suspensions in the first semester of 2011–2012 compared to the previous year. Bullying incidents are rare and students are polite and respectful in the halls and classrooms.

École secondaire publique Odyssée, North Bay
Conseil scolaire publique du Nord-Est de l'Ontario

Bringing an end to bullying

The safe schools team at Odyssée felt that aggressive behaviour, lack of respect and bullying were areas that needed to be addressed at their school. The team also wanted to raise awareness with staff about the value of empathetic approaches in dealing with students. To meet these challenges, the team then developed a variety of initiatives which included:

  • “No-to-Bullying” activities were developed to mark National Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week. They included workshops on depression and presentations by police services for students and parents on cyber-bullying and online safety. The school received the support of the parent council as well as the mayor.
  • Individual safety plans (ISPs) were developed for students who needed individual support. Staff members were counselled on the importance of effective and empathetic approaches and provided with tools to help them support students.
  • Purple Day was created to show support for LGBT youth in the school community.
  • Twitter and Facebook accounts were created so the student community could share vital information, resources, video clips and ideas, as well as links to a wide range of respected anti-bullying and well-being organizations. They are maintained by the “No-to-Bullying” team and Rainbow Club, a gay-straight student alliance.

The director of education of the school board commended the school and its students for its bullying prevention initiatives and brought an anti-bullying proclamation to the mayor and municipal council that garnered attention from local news media outlets.

Fletcher's Meadow Secondary School, Brampton
Peel District School Board

Promoting safe and healthy environments

Located in the rapidly growing northwest section of Brampton, the student population of Fletcher's Meadow almost tripled from 2004 to 2009. There was a lack of community infrastructure to support this boom, which in turn led to attendance problems, discipline issues and a negative tone in the school and the community.

To address these challenges, the safe schools team developed a variety of programs which included:

  • Healthy school initiatives focused on the overall health and well-being of staff and students. They included a health care convention, a wellness fair, and an apple-a-day campaign called “The Big Crunch.” The school also promoted the importance of exercise, balanced diet and adequate sleep through the school website and social media.
  • Bullying prevention and inclusion initiatives ran as a partner project with other public and Catholic schools in the area. The schools hosted a shared week of events in April 2012 with speakers and activities.

In addition, support was given to parents to help them build their skills in working with their children. The school worked with York University to host guest presentations on postsecondary preparation which drew 150 parents. Fletcher's Meadow then partnered with a neighbouring school to hold a college/university fair which was attended by 1,000 families.

The results have been impressive: Fletcher's Meadow has seen student behaviour and attendance improve. The number of suspensions and bullying incidents has decreased while the number of parents participating at the school council and at school events has increased dramatically. The changes have been noticeable not only at the school but in the community: the city recently chose Fletcher's Meadow as the only school to showcase at its Creative Economy summit.

Lincoln M. Alexander Secondary School, Mississauga
Peel District School Board

Celebrating diversity, promoting community
The Lincoln Alexander community faced a variety of challenges such as poverty, gangs, and interracial tensions along with a very mobile community and a high number of recent newcomers facing language barriers and trying to adjust to a new life in Canada. The climate team addressed these challenges through the following school climate and mental health initiatives:

  • Social work support was offered to individuals, groups and families. Separate support groups were developed for boys and African-Canadian girls and a partnership was established with the CAMH Youth Mental Health program.
  • A Grade 9 “Empower Reading” program was set up to help students with low literacy levels.
  • A Bullying Prevention and Intervention Team was set up to lead prevention initiatives such as Pink Shirt Day, Day of Silence and provided information on drug awareness, bullying and cyber-bullying.
  • Information/orientation sessions were offered to newcomer parents who were introduced to the school through a slide show, school tour and sessions conducted in Hindi, Punjabi and English.
  • Character development programs were offered in class. Teachers received posters and information on character traits for classroom use, as well as postcards to mail home to parents. Teachers nominated students to receive weekly and monthly character certificates for their positive behaviour; monthly winners attended a breakfast with the principal.

The result is that there has been a noticeable difference in the tone of the school along with a more optimistic atmosphere. This has translated into less vandalism and cleaner common spaces along with friendlier, more respectful interactions between students. A former student who is now completing a placement at Lincoln Alexander for her college social work program said that she has witnessed first-hand the “extensive, continuing” dedication of staff members to improving students' safety and well-being at the school and notices “a dramatic change in the school environment.”

Listowel Eastdale Public School and Listowel Central Public School, Listowel
Avon Maitland District School Board

Adjustments in Attitude

Listowel Eastdale Public School and Listowel Central Public School both faced many challenges around conflict resolution. Students at Eastdale (JK–Grade 6) eventually continue on to Central for Grades 7–8, so it was important that both schools share a common approach. It was equally important that any conflict resolution training extend beyond the teaching staff to the parent councils and student leaders.

Their solutions for conflict resolution included the following programs:

  • “Ignore, Say Stop, Report”was developed as a joint effort by both schools to teach K–8 students appropriate language and skills to deal with schoolyard conflict and help them deal with problems before they become major conflicts. The program also encouraged bystanders to report incidents of bullying.
  • The HOAP (Honesty, Ownership, Apology, Plan) continued the work of “Ignore, Say Stop, Report” by helping students work through constructive discussions to resolve conflicts. All teaching staff, the school health nurse and parents have been trained in this process.
  • Listowel Central “house teams” brought together students of various ages and grades into 14 teams to work on character development activities. The teams met to complete activities related to the school board's ten character attributes. A select group of Grade 8 students acted as house leaders to facilitate the meetings. Students earned points for their team whenever they demonstrated positive behaviour. The points were then used to buy items for others, such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

The school climate at both schools has improved dramatically. School climate surveys showed a dramatic rise in the number of students reporting they felt safe at school. Parents of children attending both schools describe them as places where students and parents can feel safe approaching staff for help with various issues.

Peel Alternative School, Brampton
Peel District School Board

Coming Together, Creating Connections

Peel Alternative School (PAS) faced a variety of unique challenges. The school is spread across three main sites which makes it hard to foster a sense of community and connection. Many students have been labelled at risk for dropping out and have had negative experiences with their past schools. With this in mind, the school climate team focused on programs that would help re-engage students and help them connect with one another.

They included:

  • “The Sister Project” was developed to bring girls together so they could form positive relationships with each other, discuss concerns, and learn critical thinking skills from female staff members.
  • “I Am BELLA (Beautiful, Educated, Loving, Liberated, and Able)” group was developed for at-risk girls, offering them art workshops led by a dynamic guest speaker.
  • “I Am REAL (Respectful, Educated, Able, and Loving)” group was developed for boys. Led by two guest facilitators, this group also met periodically with the first two groups to explore and discuss healthy relationships.
  • A flexible learning model was adopted that allowed students to learn at their own rate. Teachers offered students individual counselling, extra tutorial time and individual benchmarks. They tracked the students' progress, staying in regular phone contact with them and their parents.

The school has shown numerous improvements in the past two years, with more students graduating and a significant increase in credit accumulation. Over the same time period, PAS also saw a decrease in the number of violent incidents reported and an increase in the number of students participating in school activities and clubs.

These results speak to the number of students who started to feel a greater sense of connection to the school and regain a sense of responsibility for their education. One parent describes her child's experience with the school as life-changing and applauds its extensive one-on-one work.

Pine Ridge Secondary School, Pickering
Durham District School Board

I Am Who I Am

The tragic death of Mitchell Wilson, a Grade 6 Pickering student with muscular dystrophy who committed suicide after having been the victim of a street robbery, motivated the devastated school community to set up a campaign called I Am Who I Am in the fall of 2011. The goal of the campaign was to raise funds for muscular dystrophy, to celebrate acceptance and diversity, and to prevent bullying.

Since then, Pine Ridge has taken part in a number of initiatives to increase students' empathy and awareness of social justice. It has also strengthened the character education program that cements the bonds of a caring, inclusive environment at the school. These initiatives include:

  • A winter clothing drive collected much needed donations for northern First Nations communities.
  • A leadership camp for students offered various team-building, leadership, and brainstorming activities for budding student leaders.
  • The School Community Council (SCC) ran various events for parents with relevant guest speakers. For example, one guest speaker spoke to parents about preparing for post-secondary education costs. Feedback was so positive that a second session was set up to help parents of Grade 9 students with financial planning.

One parent described how Pine Ridge's I Am Who I Am campaign embraced all Pickering schools in its efforts to respond to Mitchell Wilson's death by bringing about understanding and respect for all people. She noted how many local elementary and secondary schools carried out related initiatives, and how conversation and a common language about acceptance and kindness sprang up all over the city.

Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School, London
Thames Valley District School Board

Equal opportunities for all students

The student population at Banting is drawn from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, including students who are new to Canada and face language barriers; those who live in low-income housing and deal with poverty, drug abuse and absent parents; and other students from middle- and upper-class households with high levels of parent engagement. Regardless of background, the school wanted to offer all students equal opportunities and an inclusive environment.

The safe schools team addressed these issues through the following:

  • We Belong at Banting” offered social/academic transition activities to support a smooth, healthy transition for students beginning high school
  • The “Wildcard Event” was a leadership day and sleepover at the school for Grade 8 students attending the school the following year. A retreat for 90 senior Banting students prepared them to lead the event. They took on many roles, including “skill builders” who led ice-breaker sessions, group games and more.
  • The student-led UpStander campaign saw student leaders visit each Banting classroom to encourage students to sign an anti-bullying pledge. The pledges were displayed prominently on the door of each classroom and in the school foyer.
  • A partnership with the St. Leonard's Society trained school staff in restorative practices that focused on taking ownership of negative behaviour and developing plans to repair harm. Staff have continued to develop knowledge and skills through monthly meetings.

Banting has seen many positive improvements at the school with the vast majority of students saying they feel the school climate is positive. One Banting student commented on the success of these initiatives, saying she is “proud to attend an accepting, special school” and feels that the school's resources for helping students resolve conflict have resulted in a school where bullying is almost non-existent.

St. Ursula Catholic Elementary School, Brampton
Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Improved Communication Brings Positive Change
The school wanted to reach staff and parents with information and ideas on how to build a more positive school climate. The Positive School Committee worked to develop several initiatives that have helped to build staff knowledge and skills, and improve parent engagement. Some of these included:

  • One Sacred Community: A Focus on Moral Literacy” was developed asa staff resource, offering strategies for building a positive school environment and a blueprint for the school to work toward a unified vision of moral literacy.
  • “Spirit/character education assemblies” brought the school together to reflect and celebrate successes in working toward a positive school climate. Each assembly focused on a monthly character attribute, such as faith, empathy, respect, etc., and incorporated elements of prayer, literacy, recognition and accomplishment.
  • Workshops and guest speakers were offered on various topics, including safe schools, special education and parenting children in the middle-school years. The school formed partnerships with the Canadian Safe Schools Network, the local police unit, a youth mental health pilot and other programs. These activities helped the school become a community hub for parent and community engagement.

The school has been so successful with its efforts that it is now viewed as an example and a community leader for fostering a safe, inclusive school climate. A climate survey at St. Ursula indicated that the vast majority of students felt safe at school all or most of the time. The positive changes have been noticed beyond St. Ursula, with many new teachers specifically requesting placement at the school.

St Jean de Brébeuf Catholic Secondary School, Hamilton
Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board

Promoting a Caring Culture

St Jean de Brébeuf wanted to take a proactive approach to promoting a caring culture at the school. The school felt the way to do this was by reaching out to the school community, which had a large proportion of recent immigrants who were adjusting to life in Canada, as well as challenges such as poverty and language barriers. The school addressed these issues by offering the following:

  • A breakfast club served 100 students four days a week.
  • An “outreach” portable for donations collected food, clothing, and other necessities for families in need.
  • A donation drive collected school uniforms in June.
  • A restorative justice program for conflict resolution ran in partnership with two local school boards, the local police, the city and the John Howard society. The school's “restorative justice circles” have helped to reduce conflict between members of the school community.
  • A partnership with Settlement Workers in Schools helped newcomer students and families register for school and become acclimatized.

The initiatives have made a dramatic difference in the school climate and student achievement. Over the past two years, both suspensions and absences have dropped noticeably. There has also been much improvement in student achievement; the school's EQAO results now exceed the board and provincial average. The school believes its promotion of a caring community, restorative justice and parent engagement have all contributed to its success.