SHJH kids getting real busy

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home Junior High has nearly achieved a goal Vice Principal and Athletic Director Terry Augustadt set when he went to work at the school last year.

The number of students involved in some kind of activity other than simply going to class has increased from a little more than half to more than three quarters.

“When I first got here (last school year) I, of course, looked at the data,” Augustadt said last week.

He reviewed discipline data as well as procedures and policies that impact behavior.

The school tracks every student who joins an extra-curricular activity, he said. Augustadt noticed that just 58 percent of students were involved in something extra – clubs, sports or the Junior High’s special group of students who qualify based on citizenship qualities – a grassroots effort kind of like the Oak Heights self-managers program “on steroids” that has been running since the late 1970s or early 1980s. At the Junior High, students can qualify for an annual camping trip to Silver Creek Falls.

Data show that among students who are involved in extra-curricular activities, 87 percent will graduate on time, Augustadt said. “Kids that are engaged will be more successful.”

Last year, the school saw 68 percent of its students involved in extra-curricular activities, Augustadt said. This year, 82 percent of students, 82 of every 100 students, are involved in an extra-curricular activity.

Augustadt’s personal goal is 87 percent involvement by students.

“You will get a set number of kids (who are) internally driven to be successful,” he said. That might be as many as 40 percent. It’s the others who need a push.

Extra-curricular activities are not mandatory, he noted, so school officials have to sell them.

Sometimes, those students face obstacles to participating, Augustadt said, so he works with students to ensure that an athletics fee isn’t going to keep them off the court or field.

Students can come in and do odd jobs, cleaning or help with paperwork, he said. “If I get a kid that wants to be involved, it’s not going to be because of money (that) they aren’t involved.”

In sports, Augustadt has been doing what he can to make them more attractive to students, he said. He’s replaced 30-year-old track uniforms and basketball uniforms. The school was still using uniforms worn by the current seventh-grade basketball coach.

“It’s also about talking them up in the hallways,” Augustadt said. Right now, that means he’s got track on the brain.

Augustadt handles discipline at the Junior High, and in each case with poor attendance, poor grades and poor behavior, he said, the student is probably not involved in school activities.

One of the first things he wants to do with each of these students is get them involved in something, he said. He did it on a recent Friday with a couple of students, who have decided to get involved in track.

That gives Augustadt a chance to extend the carrot instead of the stick. He goes to as many activities and games as he can, personally, so that when he sees these students, he can chat it up with them, acknowledging their accomplishments with a “nice shot” or “nice rebound.”

Sports numbers have been increasing, he said. The crowds at the games are getting bigger too, as parents are getting more involved – and the Tigers are getting more wins.

Augustadt is also looking for a reduction in the number of referrals, and that number is falling.

Last school year, the school had about 1,500 referrals, he said. This year, it is on pace for a third of that.

The school didn’t have a lot of intervention in play, Augustadt said. He keeps a list of the students with the most problems and another list of “side deals.”

Principal Colleen Henry has a long list of side deals too, evident in the number of Cup O’ Soup packages behind her desk.

Administrators make deals with their students, Augustadt said. For some of them, the Cup O’ Soup is a popular reward for achieving a goal, a tiny price they’re willing to pay to help students achieve their goals.

They discovered Cup O’ Soup as an enticement when Henry overheard a student talking about how much she liked it.

Augustadt said he plans to do what he can to keep up grades and make sure students maintain eligibility for activities, including direct tutoring if necessary.

A special team, the Raising Our Academics with Responsibility and Respect team (ROARR), intervenes when a student receives three or more referrals, he said. Team members will discuss the situation and try to figure out if the behavior is an anomaly.

Maybe a family dog died, Augustadt said, and the student is temporarily having issues, for example.

If it’s a longer-term problem, the team will try to work out individualized interventions to get the student on track.

Fun Fridays are the equivalent of elementary school PBIS activities, and they incentivize positive behavior with a variety of fun activities for those who don’t get referrals.

The school holds competitions to help engage students, Augustadt said, noting that the eighth grade won Spirit Week and a pizza-music party in the gym.

The sports are building team camaraderie where teammates help hold each other accountable, Augustadt said. When a student has a problem with school work, they help each other out.

The effort is showing in the school’s statistics involving participation and discipline, but “I have not hit my sweet spot yet,” he said. “I’m still learning. The learning curve was so much bigger than I thought.”

He is happy with the improvements the school has shown – including academic indicators, he said.

“I think it’s great. It’s fun when you work really hard on the foundational stuff and you start to see it produce.”