Schools focus on fostering connections and belonging

Initiatives are underway across the Jamesville-DeWitt Central School District to help students feel more connected to each other, district staff and their schools.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘Together, we are J-D,’ but it’s another to have students and staff feel like they are valued members of our schools and district,” said Nate Franz, J-D’s Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Equity. “We are actively seeking ways to increase connections and improve that feeling of belonging.” 

The district’s 2020-25 Strategic Plan includes focusing on a culture of wellness in which the social, emotional, mental wellness and behavioral needs of all students, faculty and staff are developed and supported. Ensuring that all students have a social, emotional, personal connection to a trusted adult or their school community is one of the plan’s goals for this school year. 

Following the results of the School Climate Surveys that students and families completed in Spring 2022, staff have also been focused on fostering a better sense of belonging for all students, which respondents identified as an area of need.

One of the ways the elementary schools are connecting students to their peers and adults in their buildings is by establishing Buddy Classrooms. The initiative connects classrooms from different grade levels to participate in activities together. “Relationships are what drive everything. We want to make sure that each student has a connection to someone else within our school,” Tecumseh Principal Ashley Carducci said. 

Tecumseh’s program includes classrooms taking turns each school day sending students to visit the school’s Learning Pad, the district’s self-contained special education classroom. The classroom currently includes six elementary students from the district’s three elementary school zones.  

Megan Ames, the Learning Pad’s special education teacher, said the visits help create a more overall inclusive school community. Students say hello to each other in the halls, and during the school’s book fair, Ames overheard students sharing their Learning Pad experiences with their families.

Moses DeWitt Elementary School also has Buddy Classrooms, and in March, Jamesville Elementary School plans to bring back its Buddy Classroom program, which was discontinued due to COVID-19. 

“This program provides a special opportunity to connect students in various grade levels and increase social interactions,” Jamesville Principal Marcy Baker said. “We had also noticed that students who were part of Buddy Classrooms had increased performance and confidence and experienced positive peer interactions.”

J-D Middle School students recently attended a Syracuse Stage production, which helped build community through a shared experience. The school’s shift to a block schedule is connecting students with more adults and peers as students now have time for electives and to participate in extracurricular activities and clubs.

At J-D High School, there are new student government meetings and a Constitutional Convention underway to provide better representation for students and advisement for administration. 

“Those connections are so important because connected students who have positive school experiences have more successful personal and academic outcomes,” Principal Gregory Lawson said.