Truckee program teaches ‘the whole child’
School’s out, it is early afternoon and middle schoolers crowd the polished hallways lined with a bank of black lockers.
Taped to the walls of North Tahoe Middle School are poster-sized mock front pages of the Sierra Sun, with handwritten messages from students who have taken the “Happy Class.”
“If we have control over our thoughts we have control over everything,” one eighth grader wrote.
So far, 500 North Tahoe and Alder Creek Middle School students have been through the two-year-old “You can be happy no matter what” program implemented by administrators at North Tahoe Middle School.
The poster messages from students are essentially broadcasts of self affirmation that students write once they complete the six-hour, two-session class, said program director Emily Headley.
“This is way beyond No Child Left Behind, this is whole child stuff,” she said.
Middle school is a pivotal time for students, where they look for acceptance and approval from peers and authority figures, according to North Tahoe Middle School Principal Teresa Rensch.
“With such a focus on the testing [involved with] No Child Left Behind, and us a program improvement school, it is certainly nice seeing the pendulum swing to encourage some [emotional] well-being for the kids … and the adults,” she said.
All of the teachers at the middle school have been through a similar program encouraging positive thought, Rensch said.
“It gave us the tools [for] when you are on the edge,” said Tahoe Truckee Unified veteran teacher Nancy McNair.
With both the teachers and students fortified with emotional coaching training, it is easy to overcome tensions in the classroom, said Headley.
“You do have the power to change your feelings,” she said.
The focus on emotional well-being has quantifiable affects on campus, said Rensch.
“Our numbers of detentions are down,” she said. “And our numbers of suspensions are down by 50 percent. Anecdotally, just observations in hallways and classrooms there is a more positive dynamic [between] students, teachers and their parents.”
She said the graffiti that was once “rampant” is now non-existent.
The program has lifted the entire spirit of the school, said parent Shannon Barter.
Her 16-year-old is a sophomore in the high school, and her son, a special needs student with cerebral palsy, and prone to random tantrums, has experienced only acceptance.
“My kid sticks out like a sore thumb … and no one makes fun of him,” she said. “Them having this program here says something. [The results] are not testable.”
The class is funded thorough a two-year, $250,000 grant funded from California Senate Bill 70, Headley said. Because the grant was funneled through Sierra College the program can be offered to all school children in the geographical area. That allows charter school students access too, said Headley.
As 15 students funnel out of an afternoon session, a 12-year-old seventh grader stops to talk about the “Happy Class.”
“It’s kind of fun, you learn [that] thought can affect your life,” Sydney Lancaster said. “You can create how life happens with thought.”