SUNBURY — During the Feb. 10 Big Walnut Board of Education meeting, administrators made a point of discussing one of the school district’s goals and defining its terms.
“This language was politically hijacked,” Superintendent Angie Hamberg said during her report, when she said one of the district’s goals is to promote whole-child development. “I think it’s important we discuss when we talk about whole-child and social-emotional, what do we mean versus what did you see on Fox News, because it may not be the same thing.”
Some Fox News stories have linked social and emotional learning with critical race theory, often abbreviated as CRT. Previously, Hamberg has said the district does not teach CRT, and in fact, administrators had to look up the term when receiving complaints from parents about it.
At this meeting, Hamberg said of whole-child development and social-emotional learning, “I know it’s controversial, but I tell you I’ve never met anybody that works in a school that doesn’t think these things aren’t needed, and especially today with the current climate that we’re in. That term has been tied to some negative connotations. All it means is more empathy to other cultures.”
“The bottom line is respectful dialogue and discourse,” said Assistant Superintendent Mark Cooper. “It’s being accountable for myself, to be kind. They’re universal things. Diversity is understanding and having empathy towards others with different backgrounds. Empathy is not a bad word — empathy is simply understanding where someone is coming from and how they are feeling in a moment, and that’s okay trying to put yourself in someone’s shoes. That is our intention in Big Walnut — helping our kids be successful, respectful, and responsible citizens as they grow up. Sometimes people want to vilify the word inclusion — of including everybody and making them feel welcome and included as part of the school community.”
“We want all kids to feel safe and welcome here,” Hamberg said to the board. “I think everyone here would agree with that.”
Big Walnut High School Principal Andy Jados said the school recently started a gift card raffle awarded to students who have exhibited at least one of the core values of its EAGLE acronym: Excellence, Acceptance, Growth-mindset (previously Goal-driven), Leadership and Effort. Athletically, BWHS are known as the Golden Eagles. The gift cards are PTO-funded or paid for by Jados.
Likewise, Big Walnut Middle School has a SOAR (Scholarship, Ownership, Awareness and Respect) system, while Big Walnut Intermediate School has a RISE (Responsibility, Integrity, Safety, Empathy) initiative. The elementaries also teach manners to their students as part of the curriculum.
“This ties into our vision, which has been in place for a decade,” said board member Stephen Fujii. That vision includes a “safe, respectful and welcoming environment.”
When asked about the district’s cell phone policy by a board member concerned about behavior, Hamberg admitted, “It’s a very difficult thing to manage.” She said at one time, teachers would confiscate phones and make the parents pick them up, but that became “almost a full-time job.” It also made many parents angry, some threatening to sue. She said for many, the phone allows student and parent to coordinate busy after-school plans.
Jados added cell phones are no longer a novelty, but they can become an addiction. Both Hamberg and Jados said phones are fine as long as they are not a distraction to the learning process, and the students are taught how to use them responsibly.
In addition to promoting whole-child development, the district’s goals are to improve academic achievement, optimize capital and human resources, and demonstrate financial responsibility.
Also, the spring musical returns as “9 to 5 The Musical” will be performed at 7 p.m. March 17-19 in the high school’s Performing Arts Center, 713 Miller Drive, Sunbury. The comedy is based on the 1980 movie featuring Dolly Parton. For more information, visit visit www.bwls.net.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.