WOODLAND PARK, NJ - In mid-2018, Memorial Middle School entered into a 3-year partnership with the United Way, which provides the school an opportunity to proactively address the culture and climate in the building. Principal Lisa Barreto and Vice Principal Stephen Scholtz presented an update to the Board of Education at its meeting on Monday evening, as the program is now at the midway point.
 
The School Culture and Climate Initiative (SCCI) is a systematic, collaborative and sustainable initiative where specialists work with schools to proactively address the needs of students and staff. “Culture” refers to the beliefs and perceptions that shape every aspect of a school, Mrs. Barreto explained, while ”climate” refers to the quality and character of the school.
 
“We want the school to be a place where they want to come,” Mrs. Barreto said. “It’s our job as school leaders.”
 

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In year one of the partnership, 2018-2019, a staff team was established. A survey was sent to all students, staff members and parents. The team discussed the results and a vision plan was put in to place on how to move forward with planning and professional learning and activities to grow in a positive direction.
 
The data showed that students felt connected to the school, felt strong support and care from the staff and indicated high teacher approval. However, the data showed that improvement was needed in the areas of student pride, student's ability to shape their environment and overall student approval (how much they like school).


 
In year two, 2019-2020, the Memorial team met with the SCCI consultant to work to implement a number of things including enhancing the school’s 6 Pillars of Character Education program, and working to beautify the school. Over the early-November break, the custodial staff repainted all the hallways a shade of blue, which brightened them up. Going forth, students plan to paint murals on the walls. In addition, the school will be implementing a unity/pride school “house system” that should be in place after winter break. A student climate team was established this fall and the school team has been meeting with them to discuss what they hope to accomplish. 
 
Looking ahead, the third year of the program, 2020-2021, after the team is able to implement a number of initiatives, the SCCI consultant and team will assess progress with a post-program survey. The District is hopeful that at this point, it can apply for a Blue Ribbon Lighthouse School Award, a recognition of excellence for schools with high performance in nine categories of the Blueprint for Excellence assessment. 
 
“Research shows that when you improve the school climate, students are happier,” Mrs. Barreto noted, adding that as the students spend 35 hours of their week there, school should be a happy place. Studies also indicate that when a school is a happier place, it is the single best way to prevent harassment and bullying.