By Dr. Angela Gauthier, Vice Principal, St. Gabriel High School
St. Albert, Alberta, Canada
St. Gabriel High School (SGHS) is a non-traditional, blended-learning high school with nearly 200 full and part-time students, seven teachers, three support staff and a youth success coach/counsellor. More than half of our students are over the age of 18 and many are dealing with social/emotional issues, especially high anxiety.
Our Introduction to Kaleidoscope Connect
Melanie Morrison, our success coach, and I first heard about Kaleidoscope Connect in the fall of 2015 through Derek Peterson, a dynamic youth development expert from Brightways Learning.
Kaleidoscope Connect’s Integrative Youth Development (IYD) framework immediately resonated with us, because it focuses on building resilient youth by helping them develop important social and emotional skills including self-awareness, self-management, relationship-building and responsible decision-making. While IYD supports Social Emotional Learning (SEL), it is so much more than that. It truly addresses the “whole world around the child” and their individual “developmental ecologies,” as Brightways Learning refers to it.
The possibilities of its success with our student population had us very excited!
Kaleidoscope Phase 1 and 2 Academies
Our next step was to participate in Kaleidoscope Connect’s Phase 1 and 2 professional development Academies for adults who work with youth.
During these two two-day, in-depth training sessions, Melanie and I learned how IYD integrates and applies the best of current youth development research for treating, teaching, counseling, neighboring, and parenting children and teens.
We learned and practiced methods to help our students get on -- and stay on -- a course towards resilience and success. We learned how to use the online Student Support Card tool to measure and assess seven key impact areas, or “PHactors,” that influence young people’s positive development.
After completing Phase 2, we felt we were ready to introduce the principles and practices to our students, and implement what we had learned to mindfully connect with them.
The Kids “Get It”!
In March 2016, we provided our students with four hour-long training sessions over four weeks, using the training guide and easy-to-follow, scripted Kaleidoscope Lessons provided by Brightways Learning.
During the sessions, students learned how to identify the seven key PHactors that would help them grow and thrive. They learned how to see and build their invisible “webs of support” by identifying and choosing at least five caring adults to whom each student had a relationship connection (Anchors) and who would help guide them through their lives.
Students learned that they could use the online Student Support Card surveys to measure their strengths and track their growth and progress as it related to their webs of support.
Throughout the process, the kids were able to connect with Derek via Skype to ask questions, gain clarification and receive support and encouragement.
The students were excited and enthusiastic. They really got it!
While we were teaching the students, we also introduced and taught the webs of support to our staff, school council, district counsellors, and parents.
Our goal was for everyone to understand, live, and use the language and principles while connecting and building relationships with our youth. Because of the positive feedback from our community, we included this model in our school’s three-year Education Plan.
To further our community’s involvement, we hosted a Christmas luncheon to acknowledge and thank the students’ Anchors. We also invited the parish priest, maintenance staff, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) liaison, and other community members. In honour of the event, the students painted a visual representation of their families/PHamilies* -- a large tree with branches -- including a photo of each Anchor. The tree is hanging in our main room and it’s a great conversation-starter to continue spreading the word to our community about IYD and what we’re doing.
We even shared our story at the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium (ERLC) Leader Symposium last month. Now other schools in our area are planning to implement Integrative Youth Development and Kaleidoscope Connect practices to benefit their students and community. Plus the ERLC will be hosting Phase 1 and 2 Academies in May!
Continued Success with Students
Our students continue to complete their Student Support Card surveys at regular intervals, in order to measure their growth and compare how their webs of support have changed over time. We are thrilled to see that ALL of their webs continue to grow stronger!
We meet monthly for a pizza lunch to discuss “How’s your web today?” This prompts encouraging and enlightening discussions with the students about how their webs of support have helped them become more connected and resilient, while improving their social and emotional skills.
Here are just a few impact statements from the students:
“I have a better reference for what’s going on with my relationships. I can tell how strong my supports are.”
“I learned who my real Anchors are and how they help me grow as a person.”
“It has helped me grow and realize that some of the people in my life were toxic and doing me no good.”
“It has helped me learn that my real Anchors are there when I need them. It also showed me that I can be an Anchor for people in the future so they can better themselves.”
This month, SGHS is starting another training session to introduce the Student Support Card to a new group of students. We want to affect as many lives as possible.
It is clear that Kaleidoscope Connect’s IYD approach has a positive impact on all those who hear the message; especially those who participate in the teaching and learning. Once you understand the approach, it is difficult to look at student success in life in any other way!
*PHamily is a youth’s “PH family” - the adults the youth chooses to have in their web of support.