Project Name: Awareness Day

Team Members: Westbrook High School inspirED Team

School Name: Westbrook High School

Location: Westbrook, CT

Description: The inspirED Team at Westbrook High School wanted to make their school community feel more connected and supported. They surveyed their school climate, built mini-projects around connection and support, and held an Awareness Day featuring workshops on the topics their peers listed as the most important.

The Opportunity: (What happened in this school community to create an interest in inspirED? What challenge or issue needed to be addressed, and how did they figure out what needed to be done?)

The students and faculty at Westbrook High School have a long-standing commitment to student voice and social and emotional learning. In 2015, they participated in the National School Climate Survey from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. When the inspirED program developed out of a need to bridge the gap between the way students currently feel in school and how they want to feel every day, student leaders at Westbrook volunteered to pilot the first set of team and classroom resources for inspirED teams. They became an inspirED Pioneer School in January 2016.

Under the guidance of teacher and Teen Leadership Coordinator Chet Bialicki, the inspirED Team at Westbrook was formed. They examined the results of their school climate survey and considered the emotions that were most important to them. As a team, they decided to focus their efforts on making every student in school feel connected and supported.

The Project (What was done to address this need? How did inspirED take shape in this school?)

To bring a sense of connection and support to their school, the inspirED Team developed a series of mini-projects that culminated in Awareness Day, a student-developed, student-run series of workshops that addressed relevant and interesting topics for high school students.

They designed their mini-projects to get students and teachers thinking about their relationships and the way they support each other. The first mini-project was called the Connected and Supported Showcase. During advisory period, every student in school wrote a positive statement about a classmate. They were asked to think about that classmate’s personal qualities and behaviors, and what they bring to Westbrook High School’s community. The inspirED Team reviewed and collected the notes, color coded them by grade, and displayed them in a glass showcase in the main hallway of the school. Now every student at Westbrook passes by an anonymous compliment about them every day. Mr. Bialicki says, “Students are constantly stopping by and quite surprised and encouraged by their representing statement. It was a great way to help everyone feel connected.”

The second mini-project was called “If Only My Teacher Knew,” and involved students responding anonymously to this prompt. Responses were categorized in six different areas: school, family, work, personal, friends, and other. The inspirED Team discussed these responses with all Westbrook teachers at a staff meeting, in order to connect them to the experiences and struggles of their students that may not be visible in the classroom.

After two mini-projects, the inspirED Team was ready to launch their main event: Awareness Day at Westbrook High. The goal of Awareness Day was to connect students with the conversations and issues that are most important to them. The project took around a semester to plan and involved the efforts of inspirED Team students, educators, administrators, and Westbrook community members. Awareness Day was held on May 27th, 2016. In order to design the workshops, the inspirED Team distributed a survey asking their student body what they would be interested in. The team selected the highest-scoring workshops and recruited teachers and other qualified professionals as facilitators. Workshop topics included planning for the future, career options, depression and anxiety, kickboxing, yoga, decision-making, college sports, self-defense, transitioning to college, and even a therapy dog. Students rotated through workshops of their choosing, where they were engaged in thoughtful discussion and relationship-building activities. A keynote speaker from a local university shared his personal story with the students, and inspirED staff was on hand to listen to students’ voices in the workshop sessions.

The Impact (What key outcomes happened in this community as a result of the inspirED project? What were the challenges and successes?)

Because of the efforts of the inspirED team, every student at Westbrook has been personally invited to participate in the movement to bring connection and support to the school. The Connected and Supported Showcase still displays their compliments proudly in the hallway, and students and teachers are always working to develop new mini-projects and initiatives.

Teachers have also become involved in this work, and after hearing student responses from the “If Only My Teacher Knew” feedback session, they helped support the inspirED Team in developing a “Student Bill of Success,” based on the results of the Climate Survey and student feedback.

At Awareness Day, students got the opportunity to connect with professionals in the areas that interest them, enabling them to build relationships that will support them as they transition out of high school and into colleges and careers.

For their work on Awareness Day, the Westbrook Team won a 2016 inspirED Changemaker Award, a trip to the inspirED Summit, and additional funding to support their program. With this support, they have identified additional opportunities for growth and plan to continue their work in the 2017-2018 academic year.

The Future (What is the future of inspirED at this school? What can other schools learn from this story?)

The inspirED Team at Westbrook is still hard at work bringing connection and support to their school community. Their future work will focus on ongoing student-led training opportunities for educators and administrators. The inspirED Team is particularly passionate about reaching educators and supporting them with the tools and skills needed to create positive relationships with their students and improve school climate. In the upcoming month, they will present on school climate to the Connecticut Association of Schools’ Unified Sports Leadership Conference, lead 8 other schools in a school climate training through the Connecticut Department of Education, and train all incoming Westbrook High students on detecting and improving school climate.