Returning Bridgeport Elementary students holds sign for classmates. Gilbert Bernal / The Signal

Back-to-School: Saugus rolls out plans for student support, new foundation

As they returned to school this week, Saugus Union School District officials were proud to announce their plans to promote student wellness across the district, as well as take more concrete steps to starting up their district foundation.

Coming into the 2019-20 school year, SUSD has over 9,700 students and over 1,700 employees serving the district, and for Superintendent Colleen Hawkins, encouraging mental wellness for all is a priority.

“We heard from our teachers that student behaviors, social-emotional learning and mental health were of a huge concern,” said Hawkins. “The feeling from our teachers is that we have kids that have some more challenging behaviors for a variety of reasons.”

Bridgeport Elementary students line up for first day of class. Gilbert Bernal / The Signal

Hawkins said those challenging behaviors come from a variety of reasons, whether it be complex traumas or certain behavioral disabilities, which result in them struggling in school.

“What we’re doing for this year, and we’re really excited about is we have started behavior support teams,” she said. “We’ve been able to fund two behavior support teams, which involves a psychologist, a social worker and three behavior support aides.”

These teams are designed to go into general education classrooms, observe the environment and then come up with a plan to address behavioral issues.

Another aspect of helping students is in professional development for teachers and how kids experience complex traumas in their lives differently, and react to them differently.

“What’s challenging about that is if teachers don’t have the tools to recognize and address those things and how to develop the resiliency to handle those things, than the teacher struggles, the student struggles, and everyone struggles,” said Hawkins. “So, what we’re doing, in addition to the behavior support teams, which will directly address student behavior, we’re educating the adults around not only what to do or how to understand how kids are reacting, but how to understand how they, the adults, react themselves.”

Hawkins said these practices would not only help the child’s mental wellness, but the teachers as well, who will be given training once a month on how to take care of themselves in these type of situations as well.

Additionally, in terms of wellness, the district has redistributed it counselors around it schools, and is pushing an anti-bullying campaign revolving around being an “upstander, not a bystander.”

“We know from the research that if someone is being bullied … and someone steps up to intervene, 80% of the time the bullying stops,” said Hawkins. “And it’s also important to understand what bullying is.”

Hawkins said the big push for the anti-bullying campaign will start in October.

Bridgeport Elementary students pose for first day picture. Gilbert Bernal / The Signal

“Unfortunately more and more, children and adults, we see people coming through the district that are impacted by what they’ve experienced,” said SUSD board President Julie Olsen. “So anything that we can do to integrate into how we approach learning to make it better for those involved is a really positive thing.”

A second major aspect that SUSD officials have said they are excited about for the coming year is the district’s brand new foundation. Although the foundation doesn’t have a name, board members met a consultant last week to see how the structuring and rollout of the foundation will look in the coming months.

Hawkins said while the foundation is separate from the district, the foundation board members will work in concert with district officials. And from their conversations, the foundation will likely focus on financially supporting 21st century learning through arts and innovation, an aspect important to a number of SUSD parents.

“These kids know more about iPads than we do now,” said Lisa Nuttall, another Rosedell parent who’s youngest child is a sixth-grader.

“Technology is the future and kids need to know how to use technology because it’s always changing,” said Bridget Fryer, a third-grade parent Rosedell Elementary. “Bringing CalArts onto campus was great, and from technology, it’s great to have the smart boards in the classrooms, the chromebooks in the classroom … it’s all very helpful.”

Ideas such as teaching students how to take what they’ve learned about biology and science outside into nature, or starting a computer science coding school or the current dual-language immersion programs are all examples of innovation, said Hawkins.

“What were looking at in support of the arts is really a commitment to, ‘OK, here is our core instructional program around the arts … but how do we enhance that, how do we refine that to offer even more than that base piece is,” said Hawkins. “Music, arts, dance, theater, there’s so much there that they need.”

SUSD officials have said that more information about the foundation will become available in the coming months, and the meetings will begin in December. A major launch event for the foundation is scheduled for March of next year.

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