There is a school district in Colorado that isn’t getting as much credit as it deserves. Harrison School District 2 not only has a vision for its students and staff, but a working and active plan. It reads like this:
“The mission of HSD2 is to ensure each student achieves personal success in all endeavors in life while contributing to the greater good through a unique, vital system.”
This unique and vital system is not just a fancy mission statement. Many mission statements and values seem much more like a goal or hope than an actual plan. But in the city of Colorado Springs, HSD2 is doing things differently. So much so that the large and second oldest school district has earned the badge of the National Blue Ribbon School Program on more than one occasion, and received recognition from the Colorado Centers of Excellence.
The National Blue Ribbon School Program is a U.S. Department of Education award program created in the 80’s to recognize a wide variety of different types of schools that are making steps towards closing achievement gaps between students. They look across all schools including urban and suburban, large and small, and among all ethnic backgrounds and social statuses.
Growing up in a low income neighborhood, I went to a school where many of us students were poor and struggled financially. Many of us had parents that worked multiple jobs and were latchkey kids, with too much time on our hands. We saw violence growing up and didn’t get as much guidance as we could or should have.
Now, as a former student of the district, I am excited that kids can attend a D2 school with its revolutionary action to set up maximum achievement from all students, not just academically, but socially and mentally. Here are just a few things that the school district has implemented.
Meals All students have access to free meals regardless of income. This means students can eat breakfast, lunch, and oftentimes snacks at no charge to the families throughout the day. Studies have shown that students learn better when their bellies are full. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that if a student cannot have his or her basic physical needs met, such as food, shelter, and water, they may have difficulty growing and reaching success in life. Which leads to the next action...
Later Start Times Children need an adequate amount of sleep each night to be able to fully function in the classroom. When I taught in public schools, some students would fall asleep in class or be so tired they couldn’t pay attention! When I was in school I used to fall asleep at my desk all the time. Some start times at the district are as late as 9:30am. Being latchkey kids, we rarely went to bed early ourselves. As an adult I understand how important it is to get plenty of rest, rise early and make it through the day.
School Supplies Students did not have to purchase school supplies this year at one K-8 school in D2. Employees at the Broadmoor Hotel came together and bought their school supplies for the students. Read the story! This takes so much pressure off having the name brand products, or showing up to school with or without supplies at all. The last thing kids need at school is to have to compare themselves with their classmates. I remember feeling as if your school supplies showcased how much better off you were than others in the classroom. Then community school supplies came along and changed that. But this year, and hopefully future years, we can focus more effort and resources on school clothes and other items families can buy instead of supplies.
Mental Health Check-in This is sort of like a behavior chart. The first time my son came home with the plan I was thoroughly impressed! It’s basically a mental health check. If your feelings fall on a certain color that makes the student feel sad, the student is encouraged and taught to figure out different ways to get your feelings and behavior managed to be productive. This also makes students aware of their own feelings and promoted coping skills, which we can all agree that our nation needs desperately.
Yoga Not only do first graders look adorable doing yoga, but this has really helped students with managing emotions and learning to master calmness. My kids have come to me when they are stressed and want to meditate with me, and we do it together. It’s been great for bonding as a family and teaches them life long lessons for their future.
I love how these elements level the playing field by providing meals and supplies to all, regardless of income. This way, all kids are equal to start the year. And, the fact that this district is focusing on mental health is something we’ve needed in education for a very long time. It’s with these types of changes that we can develop a strong culture of successful, 'prepared for the world' students. We hope other districts can follow HSD2's footsteps.