As you may know, we have been very focused over the past year on working to strengthen our culture of kindness and compassion at GMS. We have some of the best students and the best staff in all of Cumberland County working at our Middle School for sure, but it is still a middle school of more than 630 complex and ever-changing adolescent students and therefore, this work is NEVER done.
We continually endeavor to create the most positive cultures possible for our students and we will continue to work on this never completed canvas on behalf of our students! Just over the course of the past year, we have done several things to specifically work to strengthen our practices in the areas of preventing bullying and discrimination behaviors through a focus on kindness and compassion.
* We have conducted rounds of individual meetings between administration and students of various ages and backgrounds to get a sense of their perspective on the existing culture and climate at GMS.
* We have conducted specific training with all GMS staff (above and beyond the state required minimum) to review all bullying and discrimination policies and procedures with all staff so that all staff are well trained in how to appropriately respond to reports.
* We have publicly reviewed all bullying policies and procedures with the Gorham School Committee so that the Gorham School Committee is clear and so that our public is better informed as to what these policies and procedures are and how they operate if a report occurs.
* We have conducted specific training with GMS staff on: "Spread the Word to End the Word", Adverse Childhood Experiences Training, Social Media Training, and Restorative Practices Training.
* We have implemented additional "internal control" measures using google forms to ensure that if a report of bullying or discrimination occurs, it is recorded, communicated, investigated, and reported in a manner that meets all requirements of our policies and procedures.
* We have re-vamped our discipline structure at GMS so that it is more consistently implemented across all grade levels and teams with restorative practices being a foundational approach whenever possible.
* We have worked with "Sandy Hook Promise" to offer a program called "Start with Hello" to our students this past fall. This program encourages students to reach out to one another, to be positive and encouraging, and to make sure no student is left on their own.
* We have conducted digital citizenry assemblies for all students with follow up activities during advisory periods.
* We continue to work to strengthen our advisory periods in order to continually promote daily opportunities for positive interactions between students and adults and between students and their peers.
* We have conducted 7th grade Common Sense Media lessons on the topics of a digital footprint, bullying, discrimination, and other elements of digital citizenship.
* Our Civil Rights Team has facilitated activities with advisory groups to help celebrate Black History Month, and Women's History Month as well as a "get to know each other" activities series where students in advisory classes asked questions of each other to find out who has what in common and then discussed those commonalities using a facilitated protocol.
* We have worked with staff using materials from CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) to provide training to staff on trauma informed practices which is at the heart of understanding one another before making assumptions - a core component of kindness and compassion towards one another.
* We have also used materials from CASEL as part of our advisory program to provide specific instruction to all students on how to manage their emotions, set goals, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships with their peers and make responsible decisions.
* Our students participate in prevention-based curriculum from our social worker on emotional regulation strategies, self esteem, values, and peer pressure as well as suicide prevention over the course of each school year.
* Our student support team sets up daily lunch meetings and other small group meetings for students to discuss student behavioral concerns and to problem solve relational issues between peers, often serving 80+ studentes each week in this one setting alone.
* We continue to provide a full team of social and emotional support staff for our students including 1 guidance counselor, 1 social worker, and 1 substance abuse counselor who all meet with students 1:1 or in small groups whenever needed.
* Most recently we had the whole school participate in an event called "Spread the Word to End the Word" (check out www.r-word.org to learn more), a program aimed at kindness and compassion, specifically towards those with special needs.
I am sharing this with all of you to let you know that we have been working hard with staff and students so far this year to make the words of "Kindness" and "Compassion" a part of every day vocabulary at GMS. But while this work goes on (and will continue to go on)...issues in these areas are not just the school's alone to bear. Making Kindness and Compassion a key part of our lives, and thereby working to stamp out bullying and discriminatory behavior in our schools and in our community is a community-wide endeavor and this important work must now begin to turn in that direction.
As a means to help start this community wide conversation, Gorham Middle School is planning to host the first of what we hope becomes a series of parent evenings to begin in the month of April. We are working to bring in a renowned professional speaker to engage parents and families in this important discussion and to begin to open up this important conversation to our entire community.
We are finalizing dates now, but wanted to give everyone a heads up to be thinking about this and looking for the date/time when it is announced so that hopefully as many parents and their children as possible can attend. Specific details should be forthcoming within the next few weeks.
As always, I do encourage parents/guardians to reach out to me if you have questions. I also want to encourage parents/guardians who have ideas about how to broaden these important discussions within our community to please share those ideas. Our intent will be to continue this focus, both internally and externally into the next school year and well beyond.