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In middle school, healthy culture starts with clear values — and making room for fun

At Nicollet and Eagle Ridge Middle Schools, leaders know that a sense of belonging is one of the keys to helping students have success in their school journey. 

This idea comes to life in many ways through the expansion of One91 Pathways, but one of the key strategies is Positive Behavior Interventions in Schools (PBIS). 

The Center for PBIS calls this model “an evidence-based three-tiered framework for improving and integrating all of the data, systems, and practices affecting student outcomes every day.” According to the website, each tier in the framework relates to preventing negative outcomes, moving from universal support to targeted and individualized intervention, depending on the circumstance.

Katie Quinn, a counselor at Nicollet, brings it down to earth a bit more.

“It’s exploring how we can reward the positives — how can we recognize students when they go above expectations,” Quinn said. 

Changing the story

In District One91, each middle school has a dean of students who oversees the implementation of PBIS strategies along with other building leadership. Ryan Meyer, dean of students at Nicollet is thankful for this approach.

“When most people think “dean of students” they think of discipline,” Meyer said. “I’m fortunate enough to work in a district and with staff where that’s not the case. I’ve been able help design our engagement plan and really work with students and families to find success.” 

One of the ways that students are introduced to healthy culture is through WEB, a student-leader-driven orientation and discovery program. Eighth-grade students welcome sixth-grade and other new students through activities that reinforce school values. 

“Earlier this year, 40 WEB leaders welcomed 350 incoming sixth-grade students who were in Virtual Academy and they were able to have a peer relationship right off the bat,” Meyer said. “That’s a Tier 1, school-wide sort of program that builds our culture and gives students a great shot at success.”

Quinn and Meyer both spoke about an event called Movement March, where Nicollet had a friendly competition with Eagle Ridge to see who could amass the most movement minutes. 

“We were encouraging students to get 20 minutes a day,” Quinn said. “It’s one big unifying thing to build in that inclusiveness and belonging.”

Influx of students

Over the summer of 2020, amid a pandemic, Nicollet welcomed 40 staff and 600 students as a result of a building closure. A new Nicollet would be born, but a smooth transition was not guaranteed. 

“There were a lot of conversations around how to do this well. But it has been really good,” Meyer said. “It was a lot of family communication; surveys that (Principal) Dr. Pohl put together. Asking questions about what parents want to see, and then being sure we captured student voice.

“And then of course it’s incorporating these things into mission, vision, and our building culture.”

At Eagle Ridge, the building uses the acronym FIRE (Focus, Integrity, Responsibility, Expectations) to represent its core values. At Nicollet, they adopted RISE (Resourcefulness, Inclusiveness, Safety, Excellence) in the summer of 2020 as two staff and student populations merged into one building. 

“At the beginning of the year, we teach all of the kids about RISE and we have activities throughout that help them discover how they can model these values,” Quinn said. “When we’re doing it right, it builds a culture where everyone understands what ‘healthy’ looks like.”

  • Building Community
  • Middle School
  • Pathways
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