- Colorado Springs School District 11
West Middle School Finds New "Sources of Strength"Posted by Adapted from a story by Gazette freelance writer, Patty Tomsky on 11/15/2019 10:30:00 AM
People across the country have been deeply impacted by the fact that youth suicide rates have been on the rise. At West Middle School, the students and counselors are working together to address this issue.
Sources of Strength (SoS) is a nationwide suicide awareness program. D11 uses this program as we recognize the need to address mental health due to the increase in suicide rates. West Middle School is one of many D11 schools to integrate this program. West Middle School students are clamoring to get involved with this program. Why?
Eighth grader Cambria Zelonis-Stewart thinks that it’s because it makes students feel more connected to their community. “I’m in my third year working on Sources of Strength. It helps you realize that even though we all have our own friend groups, we’re all the same—wanting to feel a part of something.” Second-year Sources of Strength volunteer Erik Harris concurs: “My favorite thing about the Sources of Strength experience is that it lets me interact with people I might not automatically have a reason to talk to—it also makes it okay to ask for help,” Harris said.
The building blocks of belonging
The program also works with kids on issues such as substance abuse and violence. The middle school students who have volunteered to work as peer leaders run the program for their classmates and the entire school. This model is called, “relational connectedness” and builds bonds among students to enhance their knowledge of these issues as a group, as well as encourage students to seek help if needed and/or identify ways to develop inner resilience and strength to avoid being caught up in negative situations and mind-states.
“It’s all about positivity,” said Levi Rago. “We can be the people that kids can go to if they’re feeling bad when it’s harder to go to an adult.”
SoS Adult Advisor and West Middle School Counseling Secretary & Registrar Kelly Brakefield, said, “In a peer-adult connected community, kids will be able to have the tough conversations they need to have. Whether it’s through reaching out with messages, video, texts or in one-on-one conversations, Sources of Strength builds skills among the kids to ensure they know what to do if confronted with these tough issues.”
Such programs have been shown to improve coping behaviors and problems such as “self-harm, drug use, or unhealthy sexual practices.” According to the website, after being exposed to Sources of Strength, students can be said to possess: “eight critical protective factors that are linked to overall psychological wellness and reduced suicide risk."
“The conversations around these issues are so crucial: we work to help our students gain the knowledge and skills they need to reach out to others and form a sense of belonging that becomes a ripple effect of positive change and improved coping behaviors,” said Counselor and SoS Advisor Sarah Clapham.
At West Middle School, students are sharing what makes them special and displaying each of these contributions as a “vital part of the larger whole.” By writing or stating how “I Belong,” on a puzzle piece and then fitting that paper into a large poster in the hallway outside the counseling center for everyone to see. Students can cultivate a sense that “We Belong” by reading, “I play soccer and I belong” or “I am Latino and I belong,” or “I am an extrovert and I belong.”
SoS student member Annie Wruble said, “It was so cool for me to read other soccer players up there on the wall and make new connections with people I didn’t even know played soccer.”
Important Pieces of the Puzzle
“This campaign is visually represented by a puzzle with no end pieces, with the goal of filling up the entire wall, extending far past the bulletin board, to highlight our individuality while demonstrating we are all part of the bigger picture,” Brakefield said. The wider community will be involved as Sources of Strength students are extending the puzzle piece project to include district administrators and others in the community.
On November 11, SoS students presented to other classes why the program was happening. They enthusiastically visited classrooms, carrying puzzle pieces they had made for their classmates in 7th grade Math and Science teacher Tena Logan’s class. The students were articulate as they explained to a classroom of their peers why the campaign was so important to them and to the school community at large.
“We want everyone to know they are a part of our family,” Zelonis-Stewart said. “You have someone to talk to if you ever need help.”
See the video excerpts here.
A Behind the Scenes Peek: Teaching in D11Posted by DEVRA ASHBY on 11/1/2019 1:00:00 PM
What does it take to be a teacher in D11? Not only do our amazing classroom educators obtain degrees (many have advanced degrees) and teaching licences, but they also go through a process called, "induction." This process is a coaching process that allows veteran educators to mentor those who are newer to the classroom environment. "In District 11, induction is an exciting thing for our new teachers. They are assigned a coach. This coach builds a relationship with you, goes into your classroom, watches you instruct, and provides you just-in-time feedback," says Lisa Wolf, D11 Induction Coordinator.
Induction seeks to increase student achievement by developing teacher efficacy through confidential coaching, collaboration, consultation, and continuous, job-embedded Professional Development. For teachers new to the profession, an induction coach is just the type of mentor needed to build confidence and learn how to be succussful in the classroom and beyond. "We have the energy and we want to try new things, but it's good to know what works so we're not reinventing the wheel all the time," says Renee Chaves, second grade teacher at Keller Elementary School.
For veteran teachers who want to teach what they've learned throughout their careers, being an induction coach is very rewarding. "I just wanted to have the opportunity as I was finishing my career to have that chance to work with the next generation of teachers, helping them achieve that same level of fullfillment that I was so lucky to have in District 11," says Julie Overtuf. Julie taught in D11 for more than 25 years and now she is helping to coach new teachers.
We are thankful to all of our educators who have so much passion for educating our D11 students!
Watch the Induction video here.
Freedom 4th Grader Wins Big Award in the Midst of Fighting CancerPosted by DEVRA ASHBY on 9/27/2019
"I want to find a cure for cancer," says 4th grade Freedom Elementary student, Jalen Thompson. This desire is not so surprising considering what he is going through. For over a year, Jalen has battled leukemia. Jalen’s work as an ambassador for Children’s Hospital, his courageous journey, and his hopeful, positive attitude which inspires others, demonstrate the best qualities in our youth. His teachers are proud to share the incredibly positive impact he makes in the classroom each and every day.
Today, that positive attitude and desire to help others was rewarded when Jalen received the Junior Division of the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented (CAGT) Youth Impact Award for 2019. This award, formerly known as the Distinguished Student Award, is designed to recognize children ages 7-18, who have made a positive, meaningful, and beneficial impact on others in their classroom, school and community.
Jalen’s teachers agree, his outlook on life shines through in both his words and actions. “If someone is hurt, he will be the one to help them.” Someday, Jalen would like to find a cure for cancer, but his explanation behind this wish says so much about who he is. “Because of my chemo treatments, I will be OK. But there are a lot of people out there who won’t live very long because of the type of cancer they have. I am the lucky one.” Jalen's dad, Chad Thompson, is so proud of his son and says, "When other people recognize how special your kid is and how hard that he's worked, there's just no words to express what that means."
Congratulations to Jalen Thompson! He is an inspiration to us all.
Two D11 Students Place First in Mayor's Cyber Cup PSA Video CompetitionPosted by DONNA HINES on 9/23/2019
Alex Umana, Odyssey ECCO, and Kyle Donahoo, The Bijou School, were awarded first place in the Colorado Springs Mayor’s Cyber Cup PSA Video Competition. Students from high schools across El Paso County participated in the inaugural video competition. For the competition, students created 30-second, Cybersecurity Public Service Announcement videos explaining why cyber safety is important in one of three topics: online safety, cyberbullying, or social media safety. Six teams from our sudoCYBER CTSO organization participated in the competition. All students participating in the competition and their parents/guardians were invited to a luncheon at the Broadmoor International Conference Center during the National Cybersecurity Center Symposium to celebrate the program and recognize the winners.
Mitchell Honors One of their Own on Patriot DayPosted by DEVRA ASHBY on 9/13/2019 9:00:00 AM
As the country reflects on the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, most of our students hadn't been born yet or were babies on that tragic day. Now, many years later, we teach our students the meaning behind Patriot Day and what it means to #neverforget. Many schools honored first responders by hosting special ceremonies or guest speakers. For Mitchell High School, every year they honor one of their very own, who perished in the 9/11 attacks. Watch this video to hear from the Mitchell High School Air Force JROTC students for their perspective on 9/11.
Jeff Peckham - Vocal Music Director at Palmer HSPosted by Devra Ashby on 8/29/2019
How much of an impact does a teacher have on their students? Ask Mike Bauer that question. Mike is a former D11 student who, at a very impressionable age, met a vocal music teacher by the name of Mr. Jeff Peckham.
Through tough times and trials, Mike came to trust Mr. Peckham and both bonded over music. Mr. Peckham helped teach Mike a life lesson: you have a choice to take the tough times in life and either use them to make you stronger and more positive, or let them break you.
Recently, Mike, who is now a Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney AND a LA-based independent singer/songwriter, paid it forward, visiting Palmer and conducting master’s music classes alongside of some of his professional music industry colleagues. Watch the full story in the video below of Mr. Peckham and Mike’s heartfelt bond between a student and his teacher/mentor.