The Saugerties school district is embracing No More, a program to help students navigate some of the pitfalls facing young people in the modern age. Carole Kelder and Ginger Vail, made a presentation to the school board last month.
“No More is a districtwide initiative made up of administrators, educators, parents and community members who are using a multi-faceted approach to improve our school community,” said Kelder, principal at Mt. Marion Elementary School. “Many communities, and our community, face social issues that sometimes end in tragedy: drug use, suicide, texting and driving, cyberbullying. Those are just some.”
At the beginning of this year, superintendent Seth Turner talked about an initiative to help parents, teachers, staff and students to recognize the warning signs and how to get help. “So that is when this initiative, No More, came to fruition,” Kelder said. No More, which has a membership of at least 40, held several meetings last fall in groups that focused on issues facing the schools. Then they came together as a larger group a few times to discuss what was happening in the community and what they could do to help. Working with sergeant Carissa Lombardo of the New York National Guard Counterdrug Task Force, No More developed a vision and a mission statement.
“The mission of No More is to make the stakeholders of the Saugerties central school district aware, educated, and pro-active in becoming part of the solution to the problems impacting our youth,” said Kelder. “The members of No More will provide opportunities to our greater school community through events, student-centered programs, and utilize community resources to support families as our children grow into adulthood. Our vision is that No More is a network of stakeholders providing resources to bring the community together to feel supported by one another through open communication.”
Kelder and Vail, a math teacher in the junior high and district chairperson for the mathematics department, are No More’s co-directors. Working with a steering committee, they came up with five subcommittees based on key issues that had arisen during the various meetings in the fall: student-centered programs, good decisions, community outreach, public relations, and professional development. A further committee is organizing a future expo and kickoff event for No More.
“Its goal is to explore the past, present and future offerings for our students to build self-esteem and promote emotional health,” said Vail. “This subcommittee, its soft goals for 2016 are to create a list of current programs, to create a list of resources that are available to students so they know where they can go if they feel lost, and to make a wish list for future programs to be incorporated.”
When he first began teaching locally, Saugerties had a discovery program similar to what the elementary schools do at the current time, where students can explore different interests other than athletics for a few weeks at a time, said Vail, “and we’re looking at bringing that back to the junior high as an alternative to going home to an empty house.”
Good decisions is another student-centered area, Vail said, where there are a lot of choices that students don’t know about. “And we also want to make sure that all of our buildings are kind of lock-step in how we handle students that are showing signs of crisis or signs of being lost,” he continued. “So, it’s to create a common language districtwide to give the children skills to make correct decisions.”
Good decisions will help create a toolkit, or step-by-step process which educators can use if they see a student struggling. “There are so many things that happen that we might not feel is that big of a deal as an adult, but it is the epitome of the end for them,” Vail said. “[It’s about] dealing with how we can let them cope with what they face.”
No More hopes to bring SADD back to Saugerties schools. Originally an acronym for Students Against Drunk Driving, it changed its name to Students Against Destructive Decisions in 1997. The nationwide group boasts over 350,000 members in middle and high schools, as well as in colleges.
Key Club adviser Missy Greco will chair the community outreach subcommittee, said Kelder. “She will be keeping communication open between No More and some of the other coalitions that are outside of the school,” said Kelder. “I know there are some community organizations that want to do the same things that we’re doing, but they work from a little bit of a different angle, and they can do some things that we might not be able to do. She is also going to find resources that need student volunteers, so the Key Club members could support those things.”
The public relations subcommittee would establish and maintain lines of communication for No More between outside resources and the greater school community utilizing a website and social media. According to Kelder, a channel for No More has already been set up on the district website, and it’s ready to go live as soon as the group officially launches.
The professional development subcommittee would serve as a liaison between No More and the district’s professional practices committee.
Turner said No More really got off the ground in December when he asked Kelder and Vail for their help in moving the initiative forward.
“I said to Ginger and Carol, ‘I don’t know what you can do, but can you take the ball and run with it?’” Turner said. “Last week they held a meeting in here of No More and ran through this presentation. I was floored then, and I’m floored again now to hear the coordinated effort that has gone into this, and to hear the list of people who are running these subcommittees. These are all individuals that get things done.”
Trustee Krista Barringer wanted to acknowledge that the district has already been working toward some of the things No More would address. “I don’t want anyone to walk away feeling like our school hasn’t been looking at how to help our students reach some of these goals, that good decisions are things every single school every single day has been working toward,” she said. “When I see good decisions I think about our character education programs, I think about our bullying programs …. We have done so much. How are we incorporating some of the things that we’re already having to do into No More?”
“When I picture No More, it’s kind of the net beneath the trapeze artist,” said Vail. “It’s to catch and create an open line of communication between the five buildings.”