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think.respect.


Only 23 high schools in Michigan were selected to pilot the think.respect. campaign, which provides federal funds for programs in academic success, anti-bullying, and healthy lifestyles. Benton Harbor High School is one of them. This southwest Michigan school, with a history of tough challenges, is hoping to break down learning barriers for students and staff through initiatives that directly affect students’ physical, emotional, and social well-being. 
Michigan Nightlight: What really differentiates this program?
Benton Harbor High School’s Safe & Supporting Schools Building Liaison and Director Kristi Domrase: We have students with mental health issues, but sometimes when we talk about mental health issues, it means that kids just need someone to talk to, someone to listen. But, no matter what, mental health issues are a learning barrier, and we can really address them now, with referrals to mental health professionals and other support. That makes this program different.
 
For a long time, schools have not been able to address the physical, emotional, social, and behavioral problems that affect a
School reform has created great pressure: pressure to make sure that students pass standardized tests, pressure to roll out the latest reading and math programs, that kid of thing.
student’s academic achievement. School reform has created great pressure: pressure to make sure that students pass standardized tests, pressure to roll out the latest reading and math programs, that kind of thing.
 
It’s not that we are not concerned with academic progress, but a lot of things factor into that success.
 
Bullying, for example. If you are being bullied at school, you are not going to care about the newest reading program. You’re going to be concerned about being safe in school and how to avoid the bully.
 
One of our student groups specifically addresses cyber-bullying through a twitter account that they created for students to tweet only nice things about others. It’s a really good thing.
 
What are the keys to success for your program?
I have a great team of trained teachers. That’s the biggest thing. There are 22 separate programs under the grant for think.respect., and the team members who have spearheaded these programs have taken on the roles of champions.
 
Our peer mediation group is a good example. They are students who help other students work out their differences before they escalate. Students listen to their peers – sometimes more than they listen to adults. Kids want to see their friends to seek the help they need to succeed.
 
 
What existing challenges remain with this program and how do you plan to overcome them?
The biggest challenge is getting everyone on the same page. Getting everyone involved with children – teachers, families, parents and community members – to understand that healthy students, happy students, well-educated students will make great community members.
 
Because, really, if a student comes into the classroom with problems at home – maybe there is physical abuse or substance abuse, or maybe there’s not enough food – they are not going to be concerned whether or not they learn that algebra
...if a student comes into the classroom with problems at home maybe there is physical abuse or substance abuse, or maybe there's not enough food they are not going to be concerned whether or not they learn that algebra equation.
equation. They are going to worry about their families and about how to get through the day.
 
Everyone has a role to play here to be able to break down these barriers: the community member who speaks at our student-of-the-month luncheon; the administrators who help support the implementation of the programs; everyone. We will continue to invite people to the table, to reach out to the community and help people realize how important this really is.
 
Benton Harbor High School is one of only 23 high schools in Michigan chosen to pilot the programs that comprise think.respect.  How do you feel about being among such a select few?
I’m so excited. I have been with the Benton Harbor Area Schools for 11 years now, and I’ve seen so many students with all of the barriers to learning that we have talked about. I always wanted to have health programs, after-school programs, and progress reward programs, but we didn’t have the funding for them. We have it now. It’s wonderful.
 
What do you hope to accomplish through the initiatives that think.respect. allows you to offer to your students?
I hope that, by the end of this grant, that we will be able to support students socially, emotionally, physically, and academically, so that all students can reach their full potential. Like I keep saying, I just want to break down those learning barriers. That’s what I’d love to accomplish.
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  • Benton Harbor Area Schools
    The Benton Harbor Area Schools will assure all students the opportunity to gain a challenging and quality education.

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