By Desiree Williams
Since its inception in 2016, the ZCS Strong in Every Way student growth campaign has evolved into more than just a school program. It has become the backbone of Zionsville Community Schools. The 2018-19 school year ushered in additional changes to improve students’ mental health care and safety.
Strong in Every Way is a three-pronged approach to student growth and mental health. Its areas of focus are developing connections, developing assets and resources and developing cultural understandings. SIEW aims to forge young people into resilient adults.
Upon receiving the Lilly Endowment Counseling Initiative Planning grant in 2017, ZCS expanded the program. The grant funded the yearlong training of staff and community members and the implementation of a new counseling curriculum throughout the district.
“When the Lilly Endowment Grant became available to help support what we wanted to do with Strong in Every Way, that really helped us start to align our K-12 counseling curriculum,” said Kris Devereaux, chief academic officer. “I’ve seen the biggest difference in that area (due to) the fact that we now have a lot of common language among faculty and students.”
High school senior Tori Hanshew has been involved with SIEW since the beginning, having attended workshops and training before its implementation.
“It really helps me connect with teachers, but I also know that if I’m having problems, I don’t have to keep them to myself,” she said. “I can talk to (teachers) about that or get extra help before or after school (to) make sure that I’m succeeding.”
This year, ZCS elementary and middle schools began Second Step, a research-based program delivered by classroom teachers one day per week intended to improve social and emotional health. The high school utilizes time in the Mentor Access Period every Wednesday to lead lessons tied to the specifics of SIEW.
Devereaux said the district counselors aligned the programs in each school to encourage district-wide parallel conversations.
“(Strong in Every Way) helps students realize they have all these mental skills and that they have resources they can reach out to if they feel like they aren’t getting to where they want to be,” Hanshew said. “I think that’s been something that’s really helped with (mental health care).”
ZCS also initiated later start times at the high school, created the Dynamic Student Support Team and introduced police partners in every school. Devereaux said she has seen nothing but positive reactions.
Supt. Scott Robison said he has noticed changes in the district through community awareness, conversations, faculty interest and guest speakers.
“Those sorts of things prove to us that we’re changing,” he said. “We have some parents coming to the floor now to try to assist us in getting the word out about deeper connections for youth and de-stigmatizing mental health issues.”
Robison said the conversations, and actions, surrounding mental health continue to grow.