By Gary Stern
New character and community-building programs support our SEL (Social Emotional Learning) curriculum for 2017-18
This year, our focus on character and community-building has soared to new heights with the establishment first of the EAGLE PRIDE program and, now, with the successful launch of HPA FAMILIES. Eagle Pride was designed to reinforce the qualities of Positive Attitude, Respect, Integrity, Determination, and Excellence in our students—young people in whom we already have immense pride, but who we wish to send out into the world with the strongest moral compass possible. This past summer, HPA teachers also came together and worked to create a comprehensive SEL curriculum that goes hand-in-hand with HPA Families.
The driving mission behind our new HPA Families initiative is to foster a deep sense of community across both the students and faculty. In HPA Families, we strive to provide a secure environment for students of all ages, in which they are freely encouraged to talk about their similarities as well as their differences. The many “families” we are creating are each comprised of an 8th grader at the head, with a 7th grader for support, and one “family member” from each grade, K-6.
In addition to providing a safe, welcoming environment where HPA students can get to know each other, express themselves freely, feel protected and mentored, and learn shared values, the family structure provides very real leadership opportunities for each 8th grade student at the “head” of his or her group. Then too, the new Eagle Pride character development program introduces and reinforces a common language for the school community. HPA Families not only introduce these character traits to all family members, but each trait is then modeled and reinforced by the students themselves. We believe that our family program will not only strengthen each student’s security and confidence at High Point, in the larger community, and at home, but will play an integral role in building students’ readiness for their eventual participation in and contribution to a global society.
Many thanks to those faculty and staff members behind the SEL and Eagle Pride programs: Ashley Shaw, Julia Woodward, Tami Millard, Terri Gier, Becky Lievense, and Michelle Smith. Michelle was instrumental in launching HPA Families with coordination assistance from Kris Haines. Thank you to all!
Recent activity. Families meet on the last Friday of each month. This past month, the Eagle Pride trait of Respect was introduced, with each 8th grader leading a lesson for his or her family. Families discussed what Respect is and what it looks like at school, in the community, and at home. Families went on to celebrate Veteran’s Day, honoring veterans within the HPA community and discussing the importance of respecting those who have served our country and made so many sacrifices to keep us all safe.
Eighth grader Eamon Binns already sees many benefits in the HPA Family he heads up. “With all grades participating in our family, by the end of the year we will know each other well,” he says, adding that the depth of interaction between grades was something that was missing prior to the Families program. “In the beginning, a lot of the kids in my group were shy—especially the younger ones. It’s good to get them accustomed to interacting with kids older than they are, and with authority figures. And it’s a good thing that we’re impressing Eagle Pride early.”
Developing leaders. Yet it’s not only the younger grades that benefit from the Families programs, Eamon says. “The program builds leadership skills for 8th graders. In many high schools, we will be able to start our own clubs, and this program will help teach us how to be leaders before then.” He adds that an Eagle Pride Positive Attitude toward others is so important. “Kids want to feel good going through school. They have a lot of school work. They want to feel welcome and not always have to worry about social acceptance or dwell on things others may have said to them. Being kind to each other reduces that stress. Eagle Pride Respect helps teachers too, when we understand that not interrupting in the classroom helps our teachers to teach more effectively.” As for Eagle Pride Integrity, says Eamon, “Be honest! It will help us all through life.
Anya Millard admits that before she served as the 8th grade head of an HPA Family, “I didn’t know anyone in younger grades! The program has helped me get to know the younger students; I can get to know how their experience in the younger grades here is the same as mine was, or different.” Anya wishes she had had an HPA Family when she was a younger HPA student. “We had reading buddies, and there were older kids I looked up to, but the person I really valued graduated when I was in second grade, and I had no student mentor after that. It makes me feel good, now, to be that person for someone else. It’s a good mentor feeling! I get to be in the role someone once filled for me.
According to HPA family leader Isabelle Hopf, “My involvement in this program has allowed me insight into how to relate to younger children. Since I started working with my ‘family,’ I have gained a greater appreciation for making the children feel included and cared for, and I have seen a greater level of comfort from the children when they come to our monthly meetings. These activities provide students with more information about sensitive topics and encourage them to discuss anything they want with a sense of being in a safe zone.”
Malena Garcia adds, “I didn’t expect the maturity of the students! They were so polite, never interrupted me, and were always smiling. We all discuss what is going on, and how we can improve.” What’s more, says the group leader, “my seventh grader and I are definitely learning leadership skills.
And Alec Sanchez-Nigolian believes that “HPA Families are great for the school environment. We are building a strong community.” Alex also feels that in learning to work with younger children, he has become a better leader. “I just have a lot of fun with my ‘family.’ They love jokes and love to talk with one another. It’s really cool to see a student from every grade be friends. I truly care about my ‘family.’
While 8th grade family leaders stress the importance of working on Eagle Pride projects with their families, and all encourage their family members to discuss topics related to Positive Attitude, Respect, Integrity, Determination, and Excellence, they point to two additional aspects that are also essential to the success of the Families project. Isabelle Hopf may have said it best when she remarked, “This program instills a sense of camaraderie and connection. From my own experience coming to a new school and not knowing anyone, what made my time better was having others befriend me. My experience has been amazing, and I would love future eighth graders to feel the way I do when I lead my meeting each month.”