Creating a Campus Climate Office
Large high schools with a cross-section of students from all walks of life offer a glimpse into the future of our society. The topics that play out on a national stage often hit high school campuses first—LGBTQ issues, alcohol and other drug problems, sexual assault and consent–to identify just a few. You name it; we’ve dealt with it at Ukiah High, in many cases, years before the topics hit the national news.
At a recent School Site Council meeting, parents, teachers and students discussed campus climate. The question was intentionally general: what would you change at the high school if you could wave a magic wand? The answer was swift and clear: they’d have students be nice to each other. That was it. So simple. So profound. And very much a reflection of society as a whole.
They weren’t addressing events that get a lot of attention like bullying or fights. They were talking about the day-to-day interactions of students with their peers, and how to help students increase mindfulness, resiliency, and balance. These concepts are powerful and important. If society is ever to learn how to live peaceably with a blend of views and values, these teens will lead the way.
I say this because of the way students have adapted to so many cultural shifts. The LGBTQ students on campus who are open about their sexuality or gender identity are not ostracized like they would have been years ago. Teens are far more accepting of these students than the general population.
And the current news media flare up about sexual consent has been talked about on campus for a long time. A couple years ago, two seniors chose sexual consent as the topic for their senior project. Part of their program included thoughtful and thorough education for ninth graders, education that was augmented by curriculum provided by the county.
The heartbreaking news of alcohol abuse on college campuses leading to the deaths of students is also an issue our school dealt with in recent years. Four years ago, dozens of students showed up to the UHS prom under the influence of alcohol. In response, teacher Ben O’Neill and a group of students provided education and leadership to dramatically reduce alcohol use at school functions. Their work also resulted in the school using breath analyzers at these student events. In the past three years, about 4,000 students have attended approximately fifteen dances. In that time, fewer than ten students have had to be disciplined for alcohol use.
When students want to change campus climate, they do it.
The question of helping students treat each other with kindness got the Site Council talking about other issues that affect campus climate, like our changing ethnic demographic. Recently, the minority became the majority at Ukiah High. Currently, approximately 49 percent of Ukiah High students are Latino. When a shift like this occurs, it’s a good time to look at how we celebrate and honor our ethnicity and heritage.
Currently, we are discussing creating a Campus Climate office, housed in the library, the hub of student activity. Such offices are not common on high school campuses. This would be a place where student leaders from our ASB Leadership Class, MESA, Future Farmers of America and other groups could tackle tough issues like how to help students be nicer to one another or how we honor ethnicity—and communicate their ideas and solutions to other students.
They could gather and share stories that illustrate the issues, emotions, and challenges they all face, so students can better understand people who seem so different from themselves—as well as recognize that they are not alone. When students hear each other’s stories, it can be galvanizing.
This is an ambitious and worthwhile undertaking. If students were in charge of identifying issues and managing the logistics of school and community resources, I have no doubt the effort would be successful. It would have an immense impact on campus climate. As a bonus, these student leaders would gain valuable skills they could take with them to college and into the workplace.