“Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Many middle school educators have chosen to work “in the middle” because we see this as a highly influential time for our students and a time when we can hopefully help to guide them onto a positive path. This is the time when our students are trying to figure out who they are while navigating all of the distractions and influences that come with being a middle schooler. This age is a challenging period for many students, especially in today’s world. As middle school educators, we feel that the life lessons our students will face during this time are all a part of the learning process.
To help counter some of the challenges of middle school and adolescence, the Morton Middle School staff has invested much time and energy into our school’s PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) initiative during the past couple of years. While PBIS is a state-wide initiative, the philosophy behind it (a proactive approach to teaching students behavioral expectations in all aspects of school) makes sense and ties right into our mission statement-“Morton is a respectful, responsible, and resourceful community that prepares students for lifelong learning.”
In addition, last year at Morton, we added an Advisory class to provide more of a community feel for our students. The advisory class gives us a place to address middle school topics, discuss character traits, take part in team-building activities, and, most importantly, provide students with a go-to person or adult advocate for all three years at Morton. For example, many advisory classes have participated in service activities including, painting flower pots for Hospice and making Valentine’s cards Children’s Medical Center.
Fortunately, even with all of the challenges of middle school, we have many positives to share from our school year so far. First of all, our discipline incidents for the entire first half of the year have decreased by approximately one-third (34%) from last year. Of course, we still have discipline situations; but, by bringing awareness to students about exactly what the expectations are and by focusing on rewarding more of the positives, our discipline numbers have dropped significantly.
We have had several students step up to influence our student body in a positive way. One example of this is our National Junior Honor Society and our advisors, who have led the building in a “kindness revolution” this year. Over 600 students have signed a “kindness pledge,” and we have spent some time in Advisory class focusing on “kindness” lessons. The idea of the “kindness revolution” is to celebrate kindness even in simple acts and to help students to realize that being kind is not a program or an event, but instead a way of life. The focus on the “kindness revolution” has helped students to be a little more conscientious and aware of their actions.
Finally, one of the most exciting things to celebrate is our MYSA (Morton Youth Service Organization) club. MYSA was a brainstorm of two students who planned and implemented a Morton community service club. These two girls have already led the group in many service activities this school year; including a homeless sock drive, holiday visits to a nursing home, caps for cancer, Veteran’s Day cards, park cleaning, and the Dayton Peace Walk. They have even spoken to and formed partnerships with the Optimist Club and Rotary Club.
In conclusion, I will leave you with the words of 8th graders Salma Albezreh and Elaina Burley, the creators of MYSA. These two young ladies exemplify the type of positive influence and leadership that we hope to instill in all of our students. “In a school full of teenagers trying to find themselves, it’s easy to lose yourself. As teenagers in middle school, we wanted to create a space for students where they could redefine themselves using the community around them. We wanted to contribute to our prosperous community while exposing students to people and environments they wouldn’t normally approach. As we serve people from all walks of life, not only are we giving to them, but they are also giving their stories to us. MYSA is just as much for the students as it is for our community. ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’”
Shannon White is the Principal at Morton Middle School. She can be reached at 415-6647.