Belmont: The Proof is in School Spirit
This story is part of a series about Belmont High School, located in Dayton, Ohio. Through the dedication of hardworking educators, a local association leader committed to the success of both members and students, and an energetic administration that works collaboratively with the staff, the school is in the middle of a dramatic transformation. The series examines work in an atmosphere partially dictated by numerous federal programs with different requirements, where educators have a strong say in leading their profession and student success is measured beyond test scores. Read Part 1 and Part 2, and view the videos on YouTube. Read and watch the videos in the entire story here.
You know the Belmont plan is working when students are at school until 9 PM working on academic projects.
“We have kids that are getting involved in things that kids normally wouldn’t get involved in,” said Michael Slightam, an American History teacher at Belmont.
For example, National History Day is a big deal in Dayton Public Schools. It’s a competition with events at the district, state and national levels that encourages students to submit imaginative exhibits, original performances, media documentaries, Web sites and papers related to a chosen theme. In the past, Belmont students would have one, maybe two entries for the competition. This year, after making it to the state competition last year, the school has seven entries.
There is still work to be done at Belmont, as the school has yet to meet Adequate Yearly Progress. But you can tell they’re getting there, as the students become more engaged and eager for new learning opportunities.
Government teacher Kate Sanicky was teaching her class about Washington, D.C. last semester. A group of students who had never been outside Dayton approached her about organizing a trip to D.C. since they were learning about it.
Sanicky agreed to chaperon and the students set to work fundraising for the trip. They spent eight hours a day gift-wrapping at the mall on weekends during holiday season. They tapped into teachers and Belmont alumni. They sold candles, candy, cookie dough and coupon books. “You name, they’ve done it all,” said Sanicky.
The students raised enough funds and spent spring break visiting and learning more about the nation’s capitol.
“It is a lot of time,” said Sanicky. “But when students start saying ‘Ms. Sanicky you do everything’ you realize that builds rapport with them, they understand you care about them. So they put in the extra time as far as their academics are concerned. They don’t want to let you down because they know you’re not going to let them down.”
The focus on academics and improvement in grades has also enabled more students to participate in athletics. Eligibility used to be a major issue for the coaches at Belmont. “I used to bite my nails and think ‘how many kids am I going to lose?’” said Slightam, who is also the baseball coach for Belmont. “Now I’m confident.”
Kipp Grubuagh is the intervention specialist at Belmont, and the wrestling coach. Last year, 16 students tried out for the wrestling team. This year there were over 30. “With the order in the building I’ve noticed the sports participation is up,” said Grubaugh. “There are more students coming out for teams, and we’re becoming more and more successful, too”
Not only did Belmont have its first pep rally in memory this year, the school’s football team had its most winning season in nine years. The girl’s volleyball and basketball teams also excelled this season, generating a greater sense of school spirit for the Belmont Bison. “It used to be that the Belmont crowd was four or five people,” said Punter. “But now people are coming to the games and the students are starting to support the teams.”
The changes at Belmont are having a positive impact on even the most at-risk students.
Austin Carr was a truant student. He dropped out, came back, dropped out again. With a young brother at home and mother in and out of the hospital, school did not seem like a top priority. “It just got to me,” said Carr. “A diploma is just a piece of paper and it just wasn’t as important as my family.”
He was forced to come back to school by the court, but the attention of Principal White and his teachers got Carr back on track and kept him coming to school. While taking on the role of a strict disciplinarian with the students, almost like a drill sergeant, Principal White does have a softer side. Walk through the halls or spend a lunch period with White, and it’s clear he knows nearly all of the student’s names and the effective ways to encourage them.
Last year, Carr’s interim report showed really strong improvements. Principal White took notice and the first day back from spring break, called Carr into his office. Carr was surprised to find out he wasn’t in trouble.
“Mr. White showed me my report and was like ‘dude, I’ve never seen a jump like this.’ I’ve been coming to school ever since. I’m getting good grades and it keeps me out of trouble.”