Back to School: Castaic creating culture of kindness

Students at Castaic Middle School give a fist-bump on campus. Gilbert Bernal / The Signal
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Castaic Union School District returned from summer break last week, and district administrators and teachers are working to further develop a culture of wellness and kindness on their campuses.

In addition to speaking with teachers about how to build more trusting relationships with students — using the understanding that “trust equals time” — administrators are also instituting a new, districtwide policy that limits cell phones on school campuses.

Parents drop students off early morning at Castaic Middle School. Gilbert Bernal / The Signal

“One of the things I rolled out during my back-to-school breakfast message to all of our staff it goes along the lines of wellness,” said CUSD Superintendent Steve Doyle. “There are so many mental health issues coming to the forefront … that it’s really imperative that our staff connect with all of our kids on campus.”

Research supports a student being more successful in the classroom when there’s at least one adult on campus that students can speak with and connect to, Doyle said.

Castaic Middle School staff greets students at drop-off roundabout. Gilbert Bernal / The Signal

Some practices emphasized during the meeting with staff included making a connection with students by finding out their interests, spending time with them, checking in on them and not getting discouraged if it takes a while for the child to open up.

“Kids understand trust equals time, and the more time you invest in them, the more they’ll trust you,” said Doyle. “Also, making sure that you see potential in them along the way.”

A new cell phone policy approved by the board in the spring is also being implemented this year within the district.

Students at Castaic Middle School chat just before school starts . Gilbert Bernal / The Signal

“We’re implementing our new cell phone policy in alignment with a new bill that’s out there, and it was pretty much what we had in place at our elementary schools, which means no cell phones,” said Doyle. “The minute you walk into the school, you can have a cell phone on your person at your own risk, but they have to be turned off and put away in your backpack.”

The new policy is districtwide now, and includes time during breaks and lunch, Doyle said.

“If a kid has a special need based on an (individualized education plan), or if a staff member gave them permission for some reason, then those would be allowable exceptions,” Doyle said.

Last year, the district had several instances in which phones were used inappropriately, whether it was cheating or video recording something that happened, which in turn can lead to social media shaming.

Castaic Middle School students in a chat circle on campus. Gilbert Bernal / The Signal

“It’s just healthier for kids not to have it on their person — just trying to teach them responsibility,” Doyle said.

A new committee forming this year is a multi-tiered system of support. Consisting of staff within the district, the committee is going to review the special day classes for special needs students at Castaic Elementary.

“We’re going to study a better way to do that by distributing them to other schools, and seeing how we can best support students,” Doyle said.

The hope is that with the research provided by the committee, students will be able to attend the school closest to them, rather than all of them attending Castaic Elementary.

For instance, right now, if a student lived closest to Live Oak Elementary School, but a special day class program the student needs is only offered at Castaic Elementary School, then those students are bused to that location. CUSD board President Stacy Dobbs says they want to support kids, but have less of a disruption to the students’ peer groups.

“As a board, when we make a decision for the district, we’re looking at the whole child,” said Dobbs. She added that the district is moving closer to a “learning center” model that keeps kids with their classmates once they receive an intervention or individualized education plan.

The goal of the model is that if a student is struggling in a single subject, she said, they’re able to get additional help on his or her campus.

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