Zionsville Community Schools’ Strong in Every Way program encourages students to build grit, resilience

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By Mark Ambrogi

Zionsville Community Schools describes its Strong in Every Way program as a human capital campaign.

ZCS Supt. Scott Robison said he and other school officials, Dr. Amanda Slonaker, neuropsychologist, and Lynn Kissel, community development coordinator, will meet with churches, Lions Club members and homeowners associations in 2017 to explain the mission of sustaining academic excellence while refining how it develops non-cognitive skills in Zionsville youth.

The first of three main domains is developing webs of support. Robison said the concept comes from the book “Helping Kids Succeed —The Hastings Way,” which was produced by the United Way of Hastings, Minn.

“The two key concepts from the book is the anchor and strings piece that every child needs to have at least five influential positive adults,” Robison said. “That creates strings and webs.”

Robison said the premise is a student could go to any of the five if something was upsetting at any point in his or her life.

The other important concept from the webs of support is developing an attentive community.

“It’s getting our businesses to know that we really need to have some important dialogue and thought about young people as they’re coming up, and not just are they possible employees, but also how the community can rally around them, mentor and them and give them opportunities,” Robison said.

The second domain is developing assets and resources.

“The main thing is helping our kids develop grit and resilience,” Robison said. “There is high anxiety and stress, especially in high-performing schools. We want kids to have experiences where they have early failure. We want them to get back up when they fall down.”

Early problem-solving is important, Robison said, so students get the message if they fail at something they are not doomed.

“All of us have heard that suicide is the No. 2 killer from ages 12 to 24,” Robison said. “How about we stop some of that preemptively. Do kids get so anxious they are depressed? Are they self-medicating with alcohol and drugs to get away from the pressure? Certainly not the majority of our kids. The majority of kids, 98 to 99 percent, graduate and go on and do very, very well.”

The third domain is developing cultural understanding. Robison said it is essential students learn the skills to work productively in a diverse society and world.

The keys to achieving these goals are two-fold, Robison said. One is human-to-human mentoring by parents, teachers, coaches, counseling and internships. The other is experiences, which includes programs with life-ready impact.

Robison said included in that is helping students develop the grit to avoid peer pressure. He said the district also is looking at developing a substance abuse awareness program.


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