When your student steps through the doors of their school, do they have a strong relationship with adults in the building? That’s the question our school district has been working to answer. And it’s important, because recent research shows that when a student “feels seen” by two or more adults, it dramatically improves their overall resilience, their ability to handle setbacks and challenges.
As Wilkes Counselor Sue Constan put it, “Strong relationships can be a buffer to aid in resilience and help any student who’s having a tough time.” Students who have positive, supportive relationships with adults at school have more “bounce” and are better able to take stress and adversity in stride.
Last August, Clay Roberts spoke to the administrators and staff of each BISD school, sharing this message. Bainbridge Schools Foundation, thanks to support from the community, funds the district’s Social-Emotional Learning Initiative, the effort that focuses on teaching our students good self-regulation and hope-building skills.
A number of schools took on the relationship mapping project to determine whether each student has adults that they can turn to, and decided to do an internal survey. At Wilkes, for instance, Principal Amii Pratt, Clay Roberts, and the entire Wilkes staff went through the names of all the students in the building (nearly 400 names!) to determine the level of relationship each student had with the staff. Educators marked a level 1 if they knew the student’s name, a level 2 if they knew a few things about that student, and a level 3 if they felt they had a strong enough relationship to leverage their rapport to motivate or reassure the student.
When they ran the data, Wilkes found that it had 12 students with only level 1 relationships – and most of these students turned out to be new arrivals to the Wilkes community. The staff went to work again, this time focusing on building better relationships with these 12 students. This process was repeated in the spring, with the goal being a Wilkes community where every student feels that they belong.
This year, the Wilkes team will be taking this exercise one step farther – asking the students to share their opinions on the number of strong, supportive relationships they feel they have with adults in the building. “We want every student who comes to Wilkes to feel that this is their school and they belong here,” said Amii Pratt. “We work hard to know every student’s name and really get to know them individually.”
This sort of relationship mapping is being practiced at schools all over our district, from BHS to Blakely. At Sakai, this kind of work has been going on for some time. “We’re just about to start our relationship mapping work for this year,” said Jim Corsetti, Sakai principal. “Our staff works hard on building strong relationships and helping everyone—staff and students—raise their awareness of self-regulation and responsibility. Relationships are absolutely essential to children’s growth and development.”
Our district has made this kind of work a high priority, focusing on ways to help our students build hope. Recently, Dr. Chan Hellman, Founding Director of the Hope Research Center, spoke with a group of leaders from our district on the subject of hope. He defines hope as “the belief that the future can be better, and you have the power to make it so.” Research has shown that when young people feel hopeful, they are far less likely to use drugs, experience depression, have suicidal thoughts, and engage in risky behaviors.
Building resilience and educating the whole child has been a focus in our district for some time. Warren Read, Associate Principal at both Sakai and Wilkes, appreciates the continued focus the district has placed on social-emotional learning. “Bainbridge can be a high-stress district. We’ve recognized the pressure cooker that a strong focus on test scores can create for students.”
Amii Pratt agreed. “We’re fortunate to work in a district that focuses on social-emotional work and dedicates resources to it.”
Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen has been encouraging Bainbridge educators to help our students build strong minds, strong hearts, and a strong sense of community. “Building relationships leads to building hope. And hope is something we want to foster in every student in the district.”