Student Wellness programs aim to enlighten, empower students
LARKSPUR – The Douglas County School District (DCSD) has a number of Prevention and School Culture programs, differentiated to meet the needs of our students at different grade levels, all of which aim at creating empathy and a positive culture at our schools.
Whether it is the Kindness Campaign at the elementary and middle school level, Be the Change and Sources of Strength in high school or more targeted Wellness Retreats, the goal of every Prevention and School Culture program in the District is to build psychological safety by instilling enlightenment, empathy and empowerment in Douglas County students.
“Every program is set on the three E’s. It is our foundation,” explained DCSD’s Prevention & School Culture Coordinator Staci McCormack. “Every issue that we struggle with, when we think about school culture or kids' social and emotional development comes from one of those areas.”
“They might be lacking empathy, so they might not understand why a student might have the same clothes on every day,” added McCormack. “They may not realize that Douglas County has 970 homeless students that may not have access to laundry facilities.”
By providing examples like this and building relationships between groups of students that would not normally bond, McCormack says it is possible for students to get outside of their comfort zone and realize the challenges others face and that in the end, we really are not that different.
“We talk about that ‘ah ha’ moment. ‘Oh I get it. I didn’t know we have homeless students in Douglas County’ or ‘I didn’t know that even though you are in the college prep program that you have stress too. You deeply worry about your grades and your future and getting scholarships.’ It is stepping inside someone else’s shoes,” McCormack said.
She says that once a student opens their mind, it is possible to be empathetic towards other students, which naturally leads to their empowerment.
A get-away that sparks change
The Douglas County Outdoor Education Center’s tranquil environment is the perfect place for students to have this type of reflection. During Wellness Retreats, intimate groups of students gather together. While many of the retreats are open to students across the District, some are held specifically to address the needs of a specific school or program.
“I had an administrator call me and say that the culture among a group of young ladies was so toxic that it has not only permeated the class, but it has permeated the entire school culture,” McCormack said. “The administrator asked me to take the leaders of the social group to the Outdoor Education Center for a retreat. Now, this year, these ladies are leading cultural pieces in their school.”
Part of the enlightenment process is introducing students to kids they may have never associated with at school.
“They are connecting with kids that they typically have some judgments about, some assumptions about. Kids they may have just written off,” McCormack said. “In the setting of the retreat, we are laughing, we are playing games, we are relying on one another through the challenge by choice adventure activities. They completely open up their world and often the kids walk away with new friends that are sustainable friendships.”
Parents have thanked the retreat facilitator, Staci McCormack, for helping their students create healthy, lasting friendships.
”We’ll have a student that might come from Ponderosa and we’ll have another student that comes from across the county, maybe in Castle Rock, and they’re getting together on weekends. They are having retreat pizza parties,” McCormack said. “One of the students lives in Elizabeth and invited the group to come to a rodeo.”
Lessons lead to action
Every DCSD Prevention and School Culture program, including those that are school-based, focuses on the three E’s because after students are enlightened, more empathetic, they naturally are empowered to act.
“Once we have knowledge, and once we can easily step within someone else’s shoes, our heart is connected to that. That heart drives us to act,” McCormack said. “We are empowered to stand up for a classmate or advocate for ourselves or be the change agent in your classroom or perhaps your entire school culture.”
These Prevention and School Culture programs are a critical part of DCSD’s psychological safety program; empowering students to step to either take action to stop bullying, suicide and school violence.
DCSD'S PREVENTION AND SCHOOL CULTURE PROGRAMS
Elementary & Middle School
Students and staff dedicate themselves to being empathetic towards others. They create a messaging campaign for their school to encourage kindness.
Changing the Focus to Kindness
Be the Change
High School Freshmen
9th grade students are enlightened by learning more about their peers. Knowing more creates an empathetic group of freshmen. Before the students get too ingrained in toxic peer-culture norms, the Be the Change seminar encourages students to look at their Freshmen Family with a new perspective. The students are encouraged to take responsibility to care for and support every member of their freshmen class regardless of interests, ethnicity or personality.
Sources of Strength
Students identify important social issues within their school community and create messaging campaigns to help address them and to provide ways students can prevent dangerous behaviors. In some cases, schools have chosen to focus on suicide or drunk driving.
Elementary, Middle & High School
Elementary students participate in day trips to the Outdoor Education Center, while Middle School and High School students take part in overnight retreats.
The goal is to step outside of their comfort zones, to become more empowered.
The Outrage is a theatrical production that is presented to sophomores across the District. Statistical data indicates our high school students are closely connected to the topic of teen dating violence. Whether it is them, a best friend or a peer who is impacted by dating violence, education and knowing how and where to get support is key. The Outrage is presented at schools' request in the spring.