Stevenson Spotlight 2.0 - A Change in Climate
Posted on 05/24/2016
Stevenson Spotlight 2.0

Editor's note: In this month's edition of the Stevenson Spotlight 2.0, reporter Autumn Miller takes a deep dive into the new District Climate Goal and reports back on what this effort will mean for LPS and SHS students.

By Autumn Miller, '16

Respect, safety, and student engagement are three things that should always be found in a learning environment. Hand-in-hand, they help with the generation of ideas, comfort of students, and an increase in positive attitudes. However, according to the Gallup Poll (a survey students take online regarding their feelings of security in school), over the past six years, students in Livonia Public Schools have expressed that they haven't felt as secure as usual, whether it be on the bus or in class. Concerned about these results, the district has introduced a groundbreaking program simply titled the "District Climate Goal." This goal aims to improve student relationships, teacher relationships, and student-teacher relationships. Once these connections are established and built upon, it is believed that the overall mood towards the educational setting of all Livonia schools, stretching from elementary to high schools, will drastically increase and produce awesome results.

                Wanting to learn more about the District Climate Goal than I already knew and seek out the meaning behind it, I stopped by the office of Mrs. Andrea Oquist, the superintendent of Livonia Public Schools. The moment I walked in the door, she greeted me with a huge smile and seemed ecstatic about telling me what it was about. Before I began to ask her my questions, she first handed two slips of paper- one describing the elements of the District Climate Goal, and the other highlighting its specific "focus areas," and what truly stands behind them. Concepts like respect, responsibility, grit, empathy, confidence, reflection, integrity, and mindfulness are printed in bright, bold letters on the first sheet, highlighting what's necessary for positive interactions to take place. The second sheet broke down the goal into three different (but manageable) areas to tackle, being that "all students will know and use effective skills and strategies that empower them to successfully interact with peers and adults", "every LPS classroom and school environment will exhibit and promote mutually respectful interactions," and "students' scores in hope, engagement, and well-being on the Gallup Poll will reach or exceed national participant averages." Being a whole lot to take in in a textual format, I began to talk to Mrs. Oquist to get a passionate and personal viewpoint behind it all.

                Little did I know, the setup for the District Climate Goal hadn't been just of recent- and it wasn't brought on by a small crowd. Curious about the numbers behind it, Oquist replied by saying, "We surveyed over 12,000 students in 2010, 2012, and 2014". Within these surveys, students were asked about their emotional safety in school, if they feel good about themselves in school, and other questions regarding the typical educational environment. Revealing a negative trend amongst these numbers in both younger and older students, she explained that "One of the things that kept coming back up as we looked at this was, let alone our own staff, even students, the term 'emotionally safe' just wasn't resonating." Knowing that this needed to change, she knew that she and the district had to take the steps to redefine what respectful interactions and comfortable learning environments were in school. Wanting to get the students to talk and not just look at some charts and graphs, she decided to take action by going to the root of the issue- the students themselves. "Maybe we need to ask our kids how they're feeling directly, and that's when we decided to do the student focus groups," Oquist stated. "We did sixteen focus groups, across grades 5-12, through each of our triads (the elementary and middle schools that feed into each of the three main high schools), and we talked to kids about the stressors in their lives, and the things that made them feel stress at school." Wanting it be unbiased, she revealed that students of all different social groups were asked to participate in these groups, with staff help (who also had their own focus groups as well, talking about what they wanted out of their interactions with students, and why they may be answering the polls the way they are). After questioning what the district did with the data behind it all, she replied by saying that "Last year, we took all of the information from the student focus groups, and we developed the District Climate Goal with its three focus areas." The plan that was needed for far too long was finally being put into action, and with the passion behind her voice and supportive look on her face, Mrs. Oquist couldn't seem to be happier.

The ultimate solution behind it all? "We can't always count on an adult intervening when we have a conflict. We need to have more in ourselves to strengthen our own ability with conflicts," Mrs. Oquist noted. The key is instilling the proper values and tools within the students to learn how to solve issues on their own in a respectful manner. "There is no more important work that we could be doing," Mrs. Oquist confidently stated, in regards to teaching pupils how to think logically and mindfully for themselves while treating others in a proper manner.  "Research told us that these are the things businesses and companies are looking for, they're the skills kids need to successfully graduate college...and begin their life out in society and in the workplace." Preparing kids for interactions outside of a lunchroom, in a social aspect, wasn't always a top priority, but the importance of it all is about to seriously change.

The students, however, weren't the only key part of this redefining process. Mrs. Oquist realized the people who are in charge of instilling these values within kids, as in the teachers and administrators, needed to learn about the climate goal as well. When asked about what they'd be doing, she reported that "We're asking each of our staff members to make a personal reflection and a personal commitment to this work. In February, we had 1,000 teachers and principals all together, and we kicked off all of this work on our climate and culture goal, and began to engage teachers and administrators on what this would look like in their classrooms." Realizing that the students also interact with office secretaries, bus drivers, and cafeteria cooks as well, she extended the information out to employees who aren't just the people you'd find writing on an overhead. "We are really taking the time to talk to every single person who's in LPS about who we are, what we believe in, and what we expect." Students develop and mold their values based on everyone around them, not just from the people whose job is solely to educate. She understood that in order to reach the goal, she had to get everyone in the district involved. "Drastic change" doesn't have the word "drastic" in it for nothing.

Ultimately, I wondered, what makes this new social environment different from what's been done ever since us fellow seniors have been in school, or even our parents? When asked about this, Mrs. Oquist noted that "We're taking it in a different direction, in response to what kids told us." In this day and age, stressors like social media weigh heavily down on the average kid and teen, and can skew their perceptions on what's right and wrong. Media platforms like Twitter and Instagram would've been (and in many cases, continue to be) foreign worlds to our parents, which in the long run, gave them different types of issues in the social environment at school. "Social media has been a huge impact on our kids. They'll never know a world without it, and we never knew a world with it." Knowing that she can't control how kids act on social media, she hopes that ingraining these respectful values within school can help today's generation outside of it as well.

Recalling a recent session put on the other day, Mrs. Oquist remembered Mr. Archibald, the overseer of LPS's secondary schools, making a momentous realization. "In 26 years, he doesn't recall our district being K-12 across the board, every element of our district, being focused on a singular initiative like this, and hoping it will just make a really positive impact on the students we serve." In an ongoing process that has taken eight to ten years, the District Climate Goal is finally set in place and ready to be launched. As a student of Livonia Public Schools for almost 13 years now, seeing these changes in communication that are based on consideration, integrity, and personal grit are quite refreshing. The underclassmen in LPS today will be able to live in a future where being kind is the coolest thing that one can be, and will ultimately be prepared to be responsible adults who value the importance of communication. It's an effort that has, and will, take time, but it's one that's worth the hard work and passion behind it.  All in all, it's a team effort, and Mrs. Oquist realized this. "We all have a small but important role to play," she recognized. Her passion and zeal for this singular initiative is one that reflects upon the dedication of entire district, and gives me confidence that the District Climate Goal will have a greater impact than anyone could ever fathom.