The William S. Hart Union High School District’s board meeting last week was dominated by the presence of protesting teachers, but the meeting had several other unrelated reports of note — including Rio Norte Junior High’s on-campus culture and climate.
The report, presented by Rio Norte Principal Brenda Bennett, was similar to the district-wide report presented to the board in late-August but with an obvious emphasis on the climate of Rio Norte.
A survey found that over 86% of Rio Norte eighth-graders heard other students use negative comments or slurs about someone’s race, religion, sexual orientation or gender expression on campus either always (22.75%), frequently (27.54%) or occasionally (35.9%). And, 13.7% of students reported “never” hearing these things.
“This of course is an area that we can obviously do better on,” said Bennett. “(It’s) something that I think is a challenge facing all American schools, certainly not just our district or our school site.”
Bennett said it was “one of the areas” that Rio Norte was looking toward making sure students are more educated about.
The answers provided by students when asked about the statement, “Rio helps students resolve conflicts regarding race, religion, sexual orientation or gender expression,” generated results that were a bit more nuanced: Always (6.99%), frequently (15.17%), occasionally (33.33%), never (13.77%) and do not know (30.74%).
On the flip side of this, it seems as though students trust that adults are generally handling these situations with care and feel they’re doing what they can to prevent them. Over 53% felt that students were encouraged by adults at Rio to care about others’ feelings either always (24.75%) or frequently (28.54%). The results showed 39.32% of students said they “occasionally” were encouraged by adults to care about others’ feelings while 7.39% said they were “never” encouraged to do so.
Over 53% of students also felt that adults at Rio Norte either stop or try to stop students from making comments or using slurs about someone’s race, religion, sexual orientation or gender expression either always (28.8%) or frequently (25.75%), while 27.74% responded “occasionally,” 6.59% reported “never” and 11.78% reported “do not know.”
“Here we did a little bit better. We were encouraged to see that our numbers in the ‘never’ category especially went down,” said Bennett. “So while they feel that maybe conflict isn’t being dealt with or maybe they’re unaware, we did see that they’re acknowledging adults are telling students that ‘this is not OK.’”
Existing and planned strategies to create more positive results include informative videos about culture and diversity on the school’s YouTube channel, student assemblies with guest speakers that promote equity and inclusion, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports training and the school’s Council for School Culture.
The council is a group of 37 students nominated by staff members that meets monthly, and sometimes bi-weekly. The council discusses culture and climate, training for other students and hosts guest speakers.
“We want every student on campus to feel like Rio Norte is a safe, positive place for them to be,” said Bennett. “And we want to do that by appreciating our differences, respecting those differences and promoting positive choices.”