Written by Mr. Epsten, Counseling Director
One of the main tenets of Horizon Academy is to create a caring school community to help students feel welcome, safe and accepted by staff and peers. Many of our students have faced failure, rejection and been bullied in previous settings. At first glance our efforts might seem contrived or ritualistic; however, in our experience students have appreciated and responded positively to these efforts in creating a caring community.
From the moment a student steps out of the car to be dropped off for the first day, they are greeted by staff who are strategically stationed outside, at the entrance hall, in the program halls, and finally the classroom teachers outside the classrooms. Hand shakes, fist bumps, eye contact and greetings are all part of the encounters as students pass by each staff person. At first, some students are shy or reluctant to reciprocate the greetings and staff encourage and model until most students look forward to these greetings (shhh…don’t tell them they are learning social skills along the way).
Any student that is having a difficult start or is upset can come talk with a counselor and is provided a “safe spot” to reset or process through any challenges. Frequently, a facility dog is also present in the building to help students by providing a warm face or fur to pet. Communication between home and school is encouraged and provides support when extra attention is needed to work through concerns that might impact school success.
Horizon Academy “family groups” have been implemented to foster school spirit, strengthen bonds and provide mentorship throughout the elementary, middle and upper teams. Students are placed in one of 9 families that are mixed with students of all ages and have a classroom teacher and other staff serving as the family leaders. Families get together for assemblies, projects, or other team building activities. Older students are provided leadership opportunities and encourage and help the younger students as they learn and practice how to build relationships.
Our vocational/school jobs program is another initiative that helps build responsibility and care for our building and community. At the beginning of the year students are encouraged to participate and apply for jobs that help the entire school. Examples of the jobs include emptying recycling and trash bins, cleaning various rooms in the school and making announcements at the end of the day. The visibility of these jobs help demonstrate and model respect for our building and community and also shows respect for others in our building.
Beyond school wide initiatives or programs, classroom management utilizes caring community strategies to foster academic success, personal success, and acceptance of others and themselves. Check out part 2 where Mrs. Herber discusses how she implements strategies to create a caring environment in the classroom!