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Social Emotional Trauma: Weber School District and School Culture

Author: Carla Wright
November 11, 2019

Social-emotional trauma and other adverse childhood experiences (ACES) can negatively affect mental health as well as academic, social, and emotional development. Schools across the nation have been tackling the issue for far longer than its been discussed. The students and staff in Roy, Utah are no exception to this.

Roy, Utah is located in the Wasatch Front and is a small town with a population under just 40,000. Driving in from Salt Lake City, the scenery vastly changes as the Interstate 15 exit from modern close knit buildings and wide roads to small brown starter homes and two lane roads.

 

During World War II, Roy experienced a boom in population and in business as Roy is surrounded by military installations. Housing military personnel in the 50’s and 60’s lead to a shift in socio-economic conditions as more families were established. The first branch bank was established in Utah. Starting in the 1980’s construction efforts shifted to the west side of Roy and in 05’ continued shifting west and south.

 

In Utah, socio-economic conditions are deeply rooted in geography. It is locally known that the affluent parts of the state are on the southeast side of the railroad tracks while the developing and rural areas are on the northwest side of them.

 

Lakeview Elementary is located in the Northwest part of the county.

 

A city named after the death of a local schoolteacher’s child, Roy C. Peebles, Roy is home to 6 elementary schools, 2 junior highs, and 1 high school. Roy is a part of the Weber County School District which is home to 4 high schools, 9 middle schools, and 29 elementary schools.

 

The median income for a household in Roy is about $49k. The median income for a family is about $53K. The per capita income for the city however is around $18K with about 4.2% of families and 5.5% of the population below the poverty line.

 

Gentrification and gang presence is an issue in Roy, especially at Lakeview Elementary.

 

Principal Shirley Passey has had to find a solution to deal with these issues as Roy is one of the poorest towns in the state.

 

 

What are the socio-economic conditions of families in this district?

So in this district , the Roy, area, it’s the lowest socio economic and we do have some gangs. Most of our title one schools are out in this area.

 

The range for free and reduced in the Roy area is anywhere from 54% to 63%. So 50% of these kids are at least in this range. We have a fair amount of apartments and mobile homes in the area. We also have a lot of homes that dual families are living in them too.

 

57% are free reducded. We use to be 64% but over the last couple of years that number has redudced.

 

Our school is in a safe area for Title one. Other schools in the area are around 54% and they didn’t receive any title 1 funding. That’s a big deal. She’ll get in next year but you have to be out of it for 2 years, which is crazy. So she was out last year and this year and will be brought back next year. If her socio economic category dropped to 50% she’d still be in our category. Or if it went up to 59-60 but she still has to sit out a year.

 

Do you see a lot of students coming in that school is the only place where they are being fed?

 

That’s a good question. We do feed a lot of kids in the morning but on average we have 450 kids that eat lunch. But maybe 100 or less eat breakfast here. We also get donations and fubnding from the community as well. Roy high also has a grant that we are all working under so they have a food pantry and clothes over there that we provide for kids.

 

Why Lim for the district? Why was it a solution?

 

I was in my 2nd year and I got an email saying my school was going into school focus with that state. And I thought what is that. But our test scores was 18. 20,. And 30. We grow a little bit each year. We don’t make huge gains. Later that year, I was at a conference and I heard a principal from Cache valley speak bout Lim. We had a lot of behaviors in the school, anywhere from kids trying to punch me to gang member presence. They were just angry, frustrated, disrespectful kids. We still have that. But when I heard that principal speaking, I thought oh wow. We teach a character ed program, and not to diss on what the state provides, but it really does not move the dial very much. And so, when I heard this I thought we need to do this. So, as I got into it and found a way to get the grant I figured out a way to secure a grant, and I was highly supported in getting that grant I think it’s making a world of difference. Eventually we started asking how can we get this into the elementaries in Roy, 2 junior highs and the high school and its happening faster than I thought. We’re still on our journey but now the foundation has really supported us with donations received from the Ogden/ Roy area. So now it is moving. We have several elementaries that are on board, several coming on and the junior highs are talking an thinking about it and so I think that we need to provide more for our kids that have social-emotional trauma . Because really truly, we have these little kids, I mean everybody does, I saw it on the T.V. last night, it’s everywhere. But what do we do to help these kids and inspire them to be the leader of their own life? To really be able to do it. Its been a great journey. We’ve seen a lot of change. We still have things going on but last year my 6th grade teacher who has been here forever said, ‘these kids now have been through it. I’ve seen a big difference and we see it this year.’

 

We see kids that are capable of doing some many things. I had two sixth graders send me emails, separate days, separate times, and both of them identified that they were making choices that made them want to step up their participations more. They felt like they weren’t being a leader anymore. That’s pretty powerful when a kid will email you and say I can see that things aren’t going as well and I need to get back to being a leader and taking charge of my life. That’s powerful.

I believe overall that teaching the 7 habits to the students has had a tremendous effect on helping the students know how to prevent or solve problems.  It helps them be more thoughtful of others. We are creating students who know how to make good decisions and can act on those decisions. We are addressing the whole child and providing experiences that teach them and help them grow socially, emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually.  (Sharpen the Saw)  

If I look at the out of school suspensions over the last 4 years there has been an increase in suspensions.   Out of school suspensions are fights, weapons or look-a -like weapons, and/or sexual in nature.

                                                       2015     2016   2017   2018    2020

Out of school suspensions               10       14       20        38        20

In-school suspension                          5        3         3          6          1

 

 

So, do you see the students bringing back these lessons back home and teaching their families there?

 

Yeah. This year we have a parent that is on our leadership team and she says I’m learning so much from my kids every year. So yeah it is really affecting our families and parents. But these kids have been at it now for 5 years and all of our leadership nights are based on habits and what we are doing so it’s a great learning experience for the entire family. We get comments and stories all the time from parents and the community about how their students have changed and become more proactive at home and in school and the families are now turning to us to learn as well.

 

So do you think the community is getting more involved in the school now?

 

I think we need to reach out to the community more.

 

What do you think the biggest disconnect is?

 

This is an older community. We also have some families that haven’t connected as well as we would like but overall they recognize that disciplinary behavior has reduced.

 

 

Why do you think there is a gang presence here in the community?

 

As Ogden city has pushed down, gentrification has become an issue. When I first moved here, I felt like there was a huge presence in the community but I feel it has decreased some. I don’t know, that’s my own opinion. But when I first started, I had a student whose dad was the gang leader out here.

 

Have you had an issues with stabbings or shootings in the school?

I have not. But last year a high school student, this made the news, attempted rape down at the trax. There was one that planned on blowing up the school a couple years ago. Thankfully they figured it out and stopped it before it happened. He (the student) has the whole things figured out. He had floor plans of the school!

 

Is this all tied to gangs?

 

No. This was just a couple of kids with disciplinary behavior.

 

So how does the community help deal with these issues?

 

Well the community gives back what they can and luckily we have more of the affluent areas like Eden (in East Ogden) contributing to funding and dedicating time to rebuilding the town. We had a lot of run down buildings and homes but there is a lot of money the people are giving to rebuilding the environment and the community. A lot fo efforts have been made to bringing the community together.

 

With the community and schools dealing with such hard issues, how does this impact your teacher retention rate?

 

We have had some problems. It’s getting more difficult every year in regards to pay, you see it nation-wide, but I think Lim helps with that too. We see real purpose. We see these little kids change their hearts and attitudes and Weber district does a fantastic job getting out to the universities to recruit. And these recruits see the culture they are coming into and it’s the culture, I believe, that helps contribute to our teacher retention rate. We have a wonderful superintendent that helps contribute as well so to that end we also have great leadership in place with his support of not only the student but also the administration as well.

 

What did you expect LIM to help with in regards to the students before you started? Has it met or exceeded your expectations?

I wanted to change the negative attitudes and behaviors in the school.    I needed to change the mindset that the “A”students are the ones who are always selected for leadership opportunities.   I wanted to create an atmosphere that could change the way the student saw themselves. Each child needed to believe they could come to school and learn how to read or learn and be able to use the skills they acquired in each content area with confidence.   I wanted to give them opportunities to rise above the (perceived) unattainable things they wanted to do without the negative self talk that holds kids back from working hard to reach their goals. I believed that teaching the 7 Habits would empower students that struggle with low self esteem, poor grades misbehavior and bad reputations to see that they can do great things.  

 We have watched so many students change as they try to live the 7 Habits.    We have heard parents talk about the things they are seeing at home. One parent shared that her son was getting up early on their own to practice piano before school.    One parent commented that while she and her kids were driving somewhere the girls were arguing and the younger daughter said. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” and the arguing stopped.  We have witnessed a young boy with autism present a speaking part in a play presented at a Leadership Open House program. There are a lot of great things happening because we are trying to live the 7 Habits.

 

Did LIM have the impact you expected?   

The Leader In Me has definitely changed the culture of the building and created the opportunities I wanted for children to take charge of their learning and goals.   We have learned to write our mission statements, set goals and work to achieve the goals. We have learned that our mission statements clearly define the direction we want to go.    The students have created data notebooks which helps them have a vision of what they want to accomplish and they can chart their progress and be internally motivated to succeed. 

The students are taking leadership roles and doing an amazing job.   We have students who welcome everyone in the morning. Students take care of checking in late students.   Our announcements are written and announced by the students with no adult direction other than new information that everyone needs to know.  Every student has a leadership role in the classrooms. An action team of students K-6th have met together and planned family nights and the kids prepared and ran all of the activities.  Leader in Me has definitely impacted everyone in the building. The school feels happy. The children recognize when they are not being leaders in their choices,   

When we first started teaching and applying the habits at Lakeview my hope and vision was to have all of the elementary, jr. high and the high school in the Roy area to be a LIM school.  In our third year WSD foundation decided to support any school in the district who wanted to be a LIM me school could apply for a grant to help fund the cost to start. We are now working as a district to create a district model.    We have six elementaries in process and several that are preparing to start fall of 2000. This has totally exceeded my vision of helping the faculty, students and families at Lakeview.   

 

LIM is not a cookie-cutter process. It’s very personalized. How did the school make the process its own? 

We read the book, talked as a faculty, received the training and started our journey.  We created a leadership team and as we started to discuss and implement the Leader in Me we recognized we had to work through some feelings, biases, and build a community where we could discuss what was best for everyone and learning to work together.   We have become closer and more supportive each year as we have worked through our differences and have overcome barriers. We recognize that what we are doing is changing lives by teaching and applying the habits that are internal and will continue to be a way of living throughout adolescents and as an adult.  We recognize and are dedicated to building a sustainable system that will stay in the school and affect many lives long after the principal or faculty members come and go. We have those people who are natural leaders who encourage, model and lead in the areas that they have a lot of strength and it inspires and motivates others.   It is a journey and one that is very worth making when you can see the change and how it affects people.

 

Weber School District is continuing its path of tackling gentrification and gang presence by sticking with Leader in Me. Lakeview Elementary is officially in its 4th year of implementing LIM and is hoping to achieve Lighthouse status with the process in the near future.

 

 

 

 

 

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