Stronger Together as a Community
Writer / Janelle Morrison
ZCS administrators and staff are identifying and developing assets known to help young people succeed. Their aim is to develop students’ capacities so they are strong in every way possible and ready for life as it unfolds during the years of schooling and beyond. ZCS is partnering with families to strategically produce experiences for our students that will build their capacities to thrive academically, socially, emotionally, and physically.
Dr. Scott Robison, Superintendent of ZCS explained how the schools plan to do just that. “How is it that we can best partner with parents and community members and help them to be
attentive to and not dismissive of the youth in our community?”, he queried. “We need to be attentive to the non cognitive skills that perhaps were more easily leveraged in a simpler time. When conversations were primarily face-to-face or over the phone, where you could discern the tonal differences in speech versus a text message. In one way, we are more connected than we’ve ever been and more disconnected, simultaneously. It is my observation that parents are busier than they’ve ever been in my thirty years in schools. Engaging them is a tough thing to do. Luckily, in this community, the clear majority of parents are still engaged in their kids’ lives. We want to capitalize on that while being careful that our message isn’t that parents are not doing the right things because that is absolutely untrue. We see amazing parenting in this community though we do have issues amongst the 7,000 plus that pass through our doors every day.”
Robison wants the focus of this campaign to be about noncognitive skills and driving experiences that allow kids to do things that, per the research, will advantage them in having a happy and productive lives. He believes that to create systemic change, they must focus their efforts on the youngest students and their parents. ZCS and parents need to collaborate their efforts and create a system that yields higher non cognitive skills through experiences that will help the students gain from them.
A member of the ZCS staff, Dr. Amanda Slonaker, is a neuropsychologist by training and one of the core leadership members of the Strong in Every Way campaign. “We know that alcohol, tobacco and drug use exists amongst the students,” Slonaker stated. “Upon talking with our K-12 counselors, we are seeing anxiety starting at the kindergarten level. Even if we are not thinking ‘testing’ at the pre-K and Kindergarten levels, we are hearing from our counselors and teachers that the kids are thinking about the high ability pieces. Our high school counselors took a survey from both students and parents. The students are reporting time management, organization, career planning, and college planning as their top four concerns. How can we create a web of support so that they know who to go to when they feel stressed and need to talk about what is causing their stress?”
The research used by ZCS to help develop the campaign is demonstrating non cognitive skills, a term used to describe social and emotional skills or traits of personality that are not fixed, are associated not only with academic achievement but also with positive adult outcomes such as better health, work productivity and collegiality, and civic engagement. Students demonstrating social competence in Kindergarten have been shown to be more likely to graduate high school on time and complete college. Social competence demonstrated at this young age has been associated with fewer years in special education as well as fewer grade retentions. Beyond high school, research has found a positive association between adults’ social and emotional skills and employment outcomes, such as job stability or full-time employment. Negative outcomes have been associated with weak non cognitive skills. Such outcomes have been shown to include the abuse of substances, such as tobacco, alcohol, and drugs; mental health difficulties; greater reliance on public assistance; and criminal activity. Also of concern in society today is child and adolescent suicide. Although child suicide is less common than adolescent suicide, it was the 10th ranked cause of death for children of school age in the United States in 2014.
Adolescent suicide is four times higher now than it was in 1950. For adolescents ages 15 – 19, suicide is the second leading cause of death. Suicide attempts are two times as great in high school girls as in boys. However, boys are three times as likely to complete suicide. Furthermore, students of sexual minority (e.g. lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning; LGBTQ) demonstrate suicidal ideation more than two times as often as students not of sexual minority. Also of great concern are cluster suicides, or a group of suicides or attempts, occurring within a close time frame and community proximity. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates approximately one to five percent of adolescent and young adult suicides are accounted for by cluster suicides. Substance abuse is of increasing concern. The most current results of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSUDH) in 2014 indicated 2.3 million adolescents (9.4%) ages 12 to 17 used illicit drugs within the past month, including misusing prescription medicine; approximately 149,000 adolescents (0.6%) were users of inhalants; 136,000 adolescents (0.5%) were users of hallucinogens; and 28,000 (0.1%) used heroin within the past year.
“Rolling forward is like shoveling up the beach, there is always more,” Robison said. “We just keep trying to move forward with creating awareness and we’re looking at helping our partner parents as well as those of us who are teaching and working in our schools to move from assumptions to awareness. The assumption that stress isn’t a big deal for a sophomore who hasn’t yet decided where he/she wants to go to college, if he/she wants to attend college at all, is number one for that student. Remaining optimally aware so that we can better accommodate and help students acclimate and build capacity from the stress.”
Lynn Kissel is the ZCS Community Relations Coordinator and another member of the leadership group for Strong in Every Way. “I believe that we need to work with our community members to create safe spaces where our youth feel safe and welcome to go to and talk about the things that are worrying them. We hear that our students are stressed about their futures and the uncertainty of their futures. What they need to know is that no one’s future is certain and that what they are feeling is normal. We need to help them to identify their strengths and help them onto the path that will guide their futures.”
ZCS has already in place or in processes, activities which are aligned with Strong in Every Way aimed to prepare our students to be life-ready. Activities and initiatives such as, Wellness 360/Wellness teachers in every elementary, Common Sense Media series, ZCHS Ambassadors, BME Lifelines, District wide anti- bullying series and more are either in play or coming on-line throughout 2017. Programs designed to address cultural understanding such as training sessions for the ZCS staff and Meet with Peace Learning Center are either already rolled-out or will begin in spring of 2017. The community engagement piece of Strong in Every Way will identify community stakeholders and will continue to be developed throughout the year as well.
To find out more about Strong in Every Way, contact Lynn Kissel at [email protected].