Principals in the Northern Tioga School District are taking steps to ensure the emotional and development health of students in the wake of an especially tough year.
“In the short time I’ve been at R.B. Walter, the need is tremendous,” said Principal Christiana Fry. “It’s not surprising. Just flip on the news; we have political unrest, flooding, natural disasters, this killer virus, the breakdown of family, a drug epidemic. I’m hoping we can positively impact and meet the needs of these kids.”
Principals spoke at the Aug. 24 school board meeting how they’re implementing the Bridges Out of Poverty program, a development training opportunity. Superintendent Diana Barnes said the training was successful in helping identify needs of students and approaches the district can take to help.
“Comments on the evaluation after the training was that it was one of the best we’ve had,” said Barnes. “I see it impacting us and affecting how we do business.”
At the board meeting, principals agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the need and challenges greater surrounding students’ emotional and development health.
“In spring of 2020, we started to notice a drop off of some family communication. Bad stuff is still happening, we’re just not seeing it, not hearing it,” said Kris Kaufman, principal at Williamson High School. “We’re going to have some kids coming in on Wednesday [Aug. 23] who haven’t been in school in-person for a year and a half and we don’t know what they’ve dealt with. They may be uncertain of themselves, of others.”
Kaufman said he and his staff are working to change this by improving school culture, forming better relationships and focusing on positive behaviors instead of negative. This year, time is built in on students’ Friday schedules so they can take part in school clubs and activities.
Matt Sottolano, principal at Cowanesque Valley High, said students have gotten involved in improving the school atmosphere by forming CV Closet and a food pantry and transforming CV’s lobby to be “a lot homier and friendlier” to welcome fellow classmates to school.
A previous presentation to the school board said CV Closet collects donations of anything from hygiene items and clothing to pillows. Any student can take as much as needed at no cost and no questions asked.
Sottolano also said teachers are working on lesson plans based on learnings from the Bridges Out of Poverty training and that the school’s counselor has been helping students deal with trying times. He said the school’s implementation isn’t just targeting students experiencing poverty, but all students.
“One thing the instructor said that stuck out is we don’t know what these kids deal with. Don’t berate a student because they didn’t do a good job,” said Sottolano. “They might have really been doing their best given the circumstances.”