Las Virgenes district to focus on student social, emotional health

Summer still has a month to go, but students in the Las Virgenes Unified School District were back in class last week, ready to learn.

In addition to academics, administrators this year are putting the focus on the social and emotional growth of students to help them learn more readily and contribute to their success in college, career and personal life.

At its Aug. 15 board of education meeting, the district introduced a program, Student 360, that will be rolled out in classrooms, on playgrounds and at assemblies by teachers and counselors who have been trained to focus on educating the whole child.

Teachers will guide students in developing healthier identities that will help them become successful, independent adults. Student 360 starts in October.

According to Superintendent Dan Stepenosky, teachers and other school officials will help children develop in six areas: positive mindset, autonomy and independence, persistence and grit, empathy and understanding, mindfulness and thoughtfulness, and collaborative communities.

Students need to be persistent when they tackle difficult problems, Stepensoky said. Regarding autonomy, reading independence must be stressed starting in elementary school.

The program will cover every grade, kindergarten through 12th.

Stepenosky said the new focus is just one of several goals that were developed in this year’s Local Control Accountability Plan, which lays out how the district will meet various challenges.

The plan grew from work done by counselors last year when they developed a Whole Child Parent Committee and a Character Committee, both of which morphed into the current 360 Committee.

Teams of counselors, teachers, parents and administrators studied information gleaned from the Healthy Kids Survey that students in grades five, seven and 11 took last spring.

One area that caught the attention of educators was that students didn’t feel as connected to classmates as officials had thought.

Ryan Gleason, director of education and leadership, said last year’s survey showed that about 70 percent of the students surveyed felt connected to teachers or other adults on campus.

But, he said, they felt less connected to other students. Gleason reported that 59 percent of seventh-graders and 55 percent of eleventh-grade students felt connected to other kids on campus.

“How do we support more positive student-to-student connections?” Gleason asked.

He said the school environment may be competitive but there are methods to promote both competition and collaboration between students.

The Student 360 program will also focus on helping students develop empathy and understanding for people from different cultures, religions and life experiences.

A Parent 360 plan has also been developed and will include a podcast, parent education series and the continuation of the district’s Whole Child Parent Committee/ Book Study that is now being called the Parent 360 Committee.

“A lot has to happen at the home,” Gleason said. “We’re working on developing parenting mindsets.”

The program will be integrated with former goals, including college preparedness in high school and character education programs in elementary school. Emotional intelligence will be integrated into lessons at all grade levels.

Stepenosky said the new program will be monitored closely. He’s hoping for a 10 percent growth in student-teacher and student-to-student connectedness that will be determined by the Healthy Kids Survey administered in spring 2018. Test scores in English/language arts, math and science will also be scrutinized.

“I am excited for the upcoming school year, especially with the focus on the social and emotional wellness of students,” school board president Angela Cutbill said. “We want our kids to have a positive connection to their classes, their schools and their teachers, which will help set them up for success.”

A student and parent 360 website is also being developed.