Finding Happiness Through Service, Part II
A Title One middle school finds the WOW in service and learning.
Supai Middle School is located in Scottsdale, Arizona. Three quarters of its student population qualify for subsidized lunch, earning the school a Title One classification. There are just under 450 students enrolled at Supai and due to poor pass rates on the standardized AIMS test over the past several years, it is currently under corrective action.
What this means is that Principal Sheryl Rendor faced a formidable challenge when she elected to come to Supai last spring. With 26 years of experience in education, she had most recently led Pima Elementary School to its National Blue Ribbon status, an award which only 130 out of 130,000 schools in the country receive.
Consistency and Fidelity
Since Sheryl has been on board, Supai has seen a huge improvement in student performance and behavior. What were 180 disciplinary referrals in December of 2010 were only 13 in the last month of 2011. The 927 absences the previous fall were reduced to 258 in the same period this year. And the 2,539 books the kids devoured this past term were an astounding increase from the 174 books read in fall of 2010.
Supai’s approach to delivering happiness transcends the classroom and exemplifies what any great company should try to do. “We do it through consistency and fidelity,” says Sheryl. She has implemented five core programs that include a focus on positive behavior intervention and support, accelerated reading, and strategies for thought mapping and test taking.
Sheryl has also welcomed the introduction of service learning her school by teaming up with Elaine Leibsohn, who helped usher in the national “Succeeds Through Service” program that partners Ritz Carlton hotels with schools like Supai. Five of the thirteen students in Elaine’s Leibsohn’s class have exceeded their goals for the term.
Setting the Bar High
Sheryl doesn’t accept excuses. “Entitlement can come into play when life outside of school is tough. Our responsibility is to keep the bar high. We expect [students] to do their best. We tell them to present themselves in the best possible way.” Sheryl has also turned up the spotlight on parental involvement and engaging with the local community.
“It’s much better now,” says Kelly, a Supai eighth grader and one of Elaine’s class members. “It looks like they care. There are new things, programs, and it’s exciting. Service learning is a fun class. We get to help the community more. We get to say our opinions and have teammates. You get to meet more people and find new friends,” says Kelly.
Kids Helping Kids
With Elaine’s guidance, the students have chosen to focus on a project to serve the community while combating animal cruelty. They have researched, visited, and partnered with Reining Grace Ranch, where abused, neglected, and slaughter-bound horses are paired with troubled children. They have also teamed up with Sunshine Acres Children’s Home whose mission is to help children separated from their parents find stability and the tools for success in adult life. One of the class goals at Supai is to raise money to sponsor a boy who is currently living at Sunshine Acres in the Two Hearts Horsemanship Program.
Bringing the Community (and Attorney General) to School
Elaine has also brought the local business community to the kids. Arizona Attorney General, Tom Horne and world renowned horse whisperer, Koelle Simpson, are two of several guests who have come to speak at Supai. “Every speaker loves talking to the kids,” notes Elaine. “There are great people in the community who can make a difference. The kids have so much energy and passion. What we can do with numbers and using ourselves as resources is amazing.”
“Elaine is always helping us. She motivates us,” says Diana, another member of the service learning class. “We can count on her like a friend. Elaine and the teachers are a big help for us. My grades are better. My reading level is better, too.”
“I need to read.”
Kelly echoes a similar sentiment. “Whenever I don’t feel confident, Elaine makes me feel like I’m gonna do good. She’s a good mentor to me. When you give your best to do something, and it doesn’t work, don’t give up. Never give up! Keep trying.” Kelly says she’s learned that she can make a difference in the neighborhood and community, and it has impacted her performance in the classroom.
“I have teachers and Elaine to help me and I have the power to ask for help. Last year, I didn’t read a lot. Now, I need to read books. I have a goal.”
A WOW Moment
What makes the girls happy at school, besides their boyfriends? “Getting to learn new things everyday,” they say. After learning about the concept of a Zappos WOW, Diana recalled a moment of WOW in her life. “When I went to the ranch one day, a lady named Amanda helped me feel the horse’s energy. I felt so much better inside after that.”
Guidance counselor Sia Chamberlin loves what she’s seeing. “There’s an increase in the students’ confidence level. They’re making better choices and succeeding. The Service Learning Adventure Project has gone beyond our expectations in the impact it has had on our students and on our school. What Sheryl and Elaine are doing for the school . . . “
What brings Sheryl Rendor happiness? “Watching students grow. Our attitude is that you can be proud to come to Supai, because we’re proud to have you.” It’s a philosophy that doesn’t need any correction.