bayless-high-school2by Becky Sipos

It’s the time of year when most schools are having award assemblies to celebrate their end-of-year achievements, so I was surprised to learn that Bayless High School, a 2015 National School of Character, decided to move its assembly to the fall. What were they thinking? I called principal Patrick McEvoy to find out.

First, he said the staff realized that they couldn’t really celebrate the whole year because the data often didn’t arrive until the summer. And second semester achievements often weren’t recognized because the semester wasn’t over. Also, the assembly had become a long affair, meaningful for seniors, but perhaps just “something to sit through” for other students. So they kept their celebration for seniors, but moved everyone else to the fall. He said that move has had surprising results.

Moving the assembly to the fall made it more inclusive and comprehensive. Now they can include and analyze all of their testing data. They also recognize outstanding accomplishments that students did over the summer, such as Girls and Boys State, National Honor Society workshops, and more.They also went to the junior high to discover achievement for their incoming class of freshmen, so they would feel included and feel honored as well.

Not only did the assembly become more inclusive, it became a motivational tool. “Our end-of-course scores now get standing ovations,” Patrick said. “Plus students can see what they should aspire to.”

The school did more than just reschedule its awards ceremony.They decided to combine it with many other activities that often disrupt the school day. Now their first week of school concludes with “Friday Fun Day.”

Part of Friday Fun Day is the big awards ceremony, but beyond that students meet in their advisory classrooms, and each advisory goes through a rotation to complete tasks that had traditionally disrupted various school days; e.g., picture taking, hearing testing, and nurses screening. Plus each advisory goes to the computer lab to get students signed up for the student portal of Infinite Campus, the school’s computerized information tool.

“We want them to be mindful of their academics, and we want to have them use this tool,” Patrick said. “So we decided to help every student get logged in and to make sure they know how to use it.”

In addition, students have time in their advisory to do team bonding activities, to learn class meeting structures, and to work on shared norms and values. They choose a mascot and theme,and then create an identity banner that ties their advisory to the school’s goals for everyone to be “good, smart, and strong.” The ninth graders focus on good, the tenth graders focus on smart, and the 11th graders focus on strong. The seniors focus on leadership.

Each advisory also plans some service for the National Day of Service on Sept. 11th and they begin brainstorming a bigger service learning project. They discuss the five stages of service learning: investigation, planning, action, reflection and demonstration, and begin to think about how they can make a difference.

“Now we start the year celebrating all of our successes and not just the first semester ones, Patrick said. “And we’ve combined disruptive requirements with meaningful actions.It gets the school year off to a good start.”

Schools of Character, like Bayless High School, distinguish themselves by not only collecting data but using that information to drive change. Read through recent articles on the blog to learn more about the role of reflection in school improvement, as we have many articles highlighting Principle 11.