Tackling Student Stress
At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, North Allegheny laid out a plan to focus on student stress. Based on feedback collected during the previous year, the District moved down two parallel paths. The first path focused on providing mindfulness training for students and staff members. These practices focus on developing attention skills, resiliency, social-emotional outcomes, and ultimately stress reduction. The District recognizes the stress students feel and thus has a renewed focus on creating positive, happy, and healthy learning environments, as well as experiences for everyone. Teams of educators learned these practices throughout the year and shared these techniques with their colleagues in a train-the-trainer model. We look forward to implementing these practices throughout our school buildings and will continue to explore how social-emotional learning (SEL) can be intertwined with our students’ daily experiences at North Allegheny.
The second path focused on identifying systemic factors that play a role in student stress. Through this work, the District identified four specific things. The first two items were grade weighting and school start times. The District provided information regarding both topics, hosted public forums, and distributed a survey that engaged 5,530 parents, students, and staff members.
During the December 2017 School Board meeting, the District reviewed the results of the survey during a presentation. In terms of grade weighting, the District decided to not implement any significant changes in the 2018-2019 school year but would consider looking at a few tweaks that might help make the calculation easier to understand.
In terms of school start times, 74% of survey respondents believed that high school start times should be later at North Allegheny, however, only one of the proposed scenarios had support from the community. From these survey results, the District recommended to the Board to adjust high school start times for the 2019-2020 school year from a 7:25 a.m. start time to 8:00 a.m. Delaying implementation one year, the District would have additional time to educate the community and rework our bus schedules. At the January 24, 2018, School Board Regular Meeting, the School Board tabled the item regarding School Start Times and requested additional information regarding the costs associated with the proposed start time adjustments. At the February 20, 2019, School Board Work Session, North Allegheny announced that due to the national bus driver shortage the District will not move forward with adjusting school start times for the 2019-2020 school year. Additional information on the presentation from the February 20 Work Session is available on the Board Docs website. The District will continue to explore possible start time adjustments for future school years.
In order to better understand the stress caused by homework, the District disseminated a survey regarding homework to students and parents/guardians, then used the results during a Homework Summit in the spring of 2018 where the topic was examined more in-depth. The results from the survey and summit were beneficial for Administrators and teachers as they plan ongoing professional development activities for staff members. The goal is to eventually develop a set of guidelines that work for North Allegheny.
During the 2018-2019 school year, work was completed as part of one of the end results in the Comprehensive Plan regarding standardized testing and benchmark assessments. The end result focused on listing all of the assessments and benchmarks that are administered K-12 to determine if there were ways of streamlining some of the assessments to reach the same academic goals, but perhaps in more efficient and less time-consuming ways. The end result work will assist in making recommendations for possible changes related to assessments within the District.
The North Allegheny School District is excited to continue these conversations as we prepare all students for success in a changing world!