Guest post by Chris Fleming, Spence Rodman, and Regina Ross
In January of 2014, tragedy struck Lewisburg High School (LHS) when one of our students committed suicide. This event caused our school to take a deep look at how we, as students and staff, were connected to each other, and how we could build stronger relationships to guard against this ever occurring again. What our administrative team and staff developed is Colony Time, a school-wide initiative that helps individual students find their place in school and provides at least one adult advocate on whom they could lean in times of crisis and concern.
From our opening in 2006, LHS has grown from a school of fewer than 500 students in grades 6–10 to a school that has more than 1,000 students in grades 9–12. What was once a small, close-knit community is now a growing urban environment where we must intentionally provide opportunities for students to connect to one another and the school. Colony Time—a name inspired by our school mascot, the Patriot—was born out of this effort to ensure that all students had a connection to at least one group and one caring adult.
Purpose and Organization
The purpose of Colony Time is twofold: 1) to foster opportunities for students to build relationships across grade and interest levels, and 2) to build stronger relationships between students and teachers across our school building while helping students establish another advocate for themselves outside of their assigned counselor.
Each student is part of a “colony,” and each colony consists of 16 to 18 students with four to five students per grade level. Every staff member in our building, from administration to support staff, leads a colony. Colonies meet twice monthly on Tuesdays for thirty minutes.
We kick off the school year with a school-wide Colony Time competition, built around a “Minute to Win It” concept. The entire school participates and the event concludes with a showdown in our gym between the four colony group winners, in front of the student body and our faculty. To see this competition in action, click here. This activity serves as a great way to introduce our upperclassman to their new teammates from the freshman class. The relaxed environment takes the pressure off of the new students to meet their classmates and get to know their colony teams.
After the opening competition, the first meeting each month focuses on team building with activities that help students develop a stronger rapport. For example, Colony Game Day allows students time to play board and card games together; though it seems simple, just giving students a fun activity helps promote friendships among the group and encourages empathy and greater understanding of one another.
The second meeting each month addresses concepts or issues that students want to discuss. We determine the topics based on the results of a student survey created by our counseling department. One of the issues that we have addressed is bullying. The adult leader facilitates a discussion about the topic using guided questions. Next, students participate in an activity that provides different scenarios that encourage them to think more about the issue. For instance, an activity called “Above the Line, Below the Line” asked students to identify whether an action was considered bullying, such as sitting with a new student during lunchtime or making fun of a new student’s outfit.
Colony Time has already made a strong impact on Lewisburg High School. The overall response from both students and staff has been overwhelmingly positive. We are pleased with the progress we have made and continue to improve to the program.
Our 2017 valedictorian Taylor Bond summed it up best. When asked what she hoped to see still happening at LHS when she returned for her ten-year reunion, her response was, “Colony Time.” She went on to say that she was nervous about moving to Tulane University, which is more than five hours from home, however, Colony Time has helped calm her fears of meeting new people by allowing her to get to know others at LHS and interact with them. Thanks to the opportunities Colony Time provided, she feels more confident about campus life.
Could a program like Colony Time help your students be more connected at school? How does your school help foster stronger relationships among students and staff?
Chris Fleming, Spence Rodman, and Regina Ross serve as the administrative team of Lewisburg High School in Olive Branch, MS. Follow them on Twitter @thegeneralcd, @coachrodman, and @ReginaRRoss. Fleming is the 2017 Mississippi High School Principal of the Year.