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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.