Strong in Every Way

Zionsville Community Schools' Campaign to Improve SEL for All Students

kris devereaux

kris devereaux

For Kris Devereaux, Chief Academic Officer, and her colleagues at Zionsville Community Schools in Indiana, strengthening the Social and Emotional competence of students throughout the district is a top priority. And they have invited Brightways Learning to help them reach their goals by implementing Kaleidoscope Connect’s Integrative Youth Development (IYD) framework. 

IYD is a strengths-based approach that teaches adults how to focus on what is right with youth and help kids build Webs of Support by identifying key individuals (Anchors) who provide authentic caring and high expectations. This, in turn, builds resilience, equipping youth with the SEL skills, attitudes, values, and confidence they need to thrive amid life’s challenges.
 
The district’s journey to improve SEL – and to integrate IYD – began about a year ago. The administrators, led by Superintendent Scott Robison, began working closely with their K-12 counselors to learn how they could better meet the needs of students at all levels. 

“Something that became very apparent to all of us after listening to our counselors was that we really needed to strengthen the focus on the social and emotional aspects of our students,” said Kris. “Our district has done well academically for many years, but we realized we need to make sure we are giving the same attention to the social and emotional well-being of the kids.”
 
Superintendent Robison had learned about IYD after reading Helping Kids Succeed*, a handbook co-written by Derek Peterson, Youth Development Expert and partner of Brightways Learning. The book explains how the principles and practices of IYD have the power to change the trajectory of students’ lives by building support networks (Webs of Support) that cultivate caring and connected schools and communities.
 
Superintendent Robison gave the book to all counselors and administrators. And after reading it, the counselors agreed that this approach made sense for young people in Zionsville.

Strong in Every Way

Superintendent Robison then developed a human capital campaign called Strong in Every Way™ that included three pillars:
 

  1. Developing Webs of Support
  2. Developing assets and resources
  3. Creating cultures of understanding


The district began putting the pieces into place. In addition to their commitment to IYD, they added Elementary Wellness 360 (PE + SEL), hired an Extended Experiences Coordinator at the high school to connect students with their passions, started a new Career-Based Experiences program, and provided Implicit Bias training for district employees. In addition, Zionsville changed school start times to match the research on adolescents’ need for school to start at or after 8:30 AM, and the district collaborated with The Gift Of Failure author Jessica Lahey to do community book studies online and in person, and to have Lahey visit the district to provide professional development for teachers and a public presentation attended by more than 800 parents.
 
With help from funds awarded by a Lilly Endowment Implementation grant, Kris and six of her colleagues attended a presentation given by Derek at the University of Indianapolis in spring of 2017. “Derek’s presentation confirmed that IYD absolutely aligned with Dr. Robison’s vision and the campaign we were developing,” said Kris, “We immediately booked Derek to kick off the campaign at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.”
 
Grant funds were also utilized to send four people – Dr. Amanda Slonaker, clinical neuropsychologist for the district; Lynn Kissel, the district’s Community Development and Residency Specialist; and two community members and parents, Erin Bivans-Johnson and Amie Peele Carter – to Phases 1 and 2 of Kaleidoscope Connect’s IYD Academy in Edmonton, Alberta last May. 
 
The Academy qualified them to train others in the district to share the IYD story so that all parents and community members understand key IYD concepts like: being an Anchor to students, throwing and catching supports (strings), being aware of events that disrupt the Web (scissor cuts), and expanding a young person's abilities, talents, and resilience (growing the balloon).

Three months later, on August 3, 2017, the district formally kicked off the Strong in Every Way™ campaign faculty and staff training, with Derek leading an action-packed day! 

Strong in Every Way™ kickoff

Strong in Every Way™ kickoff

Beginning early in the morning, and lasting well into the evening, Derek delivered hands-on IYD workshops and keynote presentations for nearly 2,000 people including all district administrators and staff members, students, parents, community members, and guests from surrounding communities. 
 
“It was an amazing, motivating day,” exclaimed Kris. “Derek exceeded our expectations. He reminded everyone that we are here for the kids, and instilled the importance of coming together as a community to build strong Webs of Support for our youth.”
 
As the new school year begins, the district is continuing to infuse the principals of IYD into their faculty, staff, Board, and key parent volunteers. Zionsville will continue sharing information about Anchors and Webs of Support with community organizations, places of worship, students, parents,  and community members. 

“I was interested to see how the first day of school, just five days after Derek’s kickoff, might feel or look different than it has in years past,” said Kris. “I immediately saw evidence that Derek’s work with the staff had a direct impact on the lens through which we are viewing students.
 
“As I visited the various schools, I found so many teachers taking time to really get to know the students. They weren’t just focusing on curriculum or talking about rules and procedures, but engaging the kids in interactive, getting-to-know-you games and activities.  

“At one school, all students wore nametags so anyone who saw them in the hallway could call them by name. And several teachers were doing Derek’s “balloon-bop” activity with kids, talking about the importance of strong Webs of Support and not letting any of their classmates fall through the cracks. It was very impactful.  
 
“One student who had worked with Derek was in the hallway while a brand-new student was receiving a tour. She immediately walked over to the new student, introduced herself, and asked the student to introduce himself. ‘I’m here for you,’ she said. 'If you see me in the hall be sure to wave.’ It was very touching to see that Derek truly got through to the kids who participated in the kickoff. 

“Parents commented that in the past they received forms to get just basic information about students at the beginning of the year. This year the forms asked questions like ‘what does your family like to do together?’, and ‘what can you tell us about your child’s resiliency and grit?’ Parents felt that the schools really wanted to get to know their kids.  
 
“And we know kids are bringing it home with them. A parent contacted me and said that she was thrilled that her son was using the Webs and Anchors language, even referencing several of them during a family game night.”
 

So What’s Next?

The district has applied for a Lilly Endowment grant that, if awarded, will help fund their four-year plan, including building in measurements to gauge success with longitudinal data. 
 
“Not all of our plans are dependent upon the grant,” said Kris. “Whether or not we are awarded, we plan to continue reinforcing throughout the year what we have learned. But if we do receive the funds,  Derek will be our first phone call so we can continue to have him work with students and staff for the next four years!”

Derek and the team at Brightways are excited to work with the Zionsville students, staff, and community to help make their Strong in Every Way™ campaign a success. “We look forward to supporting Zionsville’s vision,” said Derek Peterson, "and working alongside them to build a caring, connected community with resilient students and the adults who are equipped to support them."
 


*Helping Kids Succeed--The Hastings Way, published in 2014, was written by and for the people of Hastings, MN along with Derek Peterson, partner of Brightways Learning and creator of IYD.