Adjusting to ConVal’s culture

Monday, December 12, 2016 6:45PM

Aug. 30, 2016: the first day of the school year at ConVal. Dressed in their new school clothes, the students were on their best behavior, and the halls were filled with sounds of greetings. Although most of the freshman blended right in, you could tell by their wide-eyed expressions that this new world was nothing like middle school. And even though I graduated from ConVal in 2009, I was as nervous as I imagined those 175 new ninth-graders were.

I began my new role as culture monitor with the thought that I’d simply be creating a “strong presence” in the hallways, but I quickly discovered that this position includes so much more than that. Several years ago, the district considered the option of a school resource officer – a police officer assigned to the high school – but instead created my unique position. When people ask me what I do at school, I describe my position as the best parts of high school. Much of my day involves walking the halls and giving students gentle reminders to go back to class, but I also spend a great deal of time getting to know them.

As in any high school, of course, there are the couples who are late to class because they lost track of time, or a few boys who feel their time is better spent outside the classroom. However, I quickly discovered within those first few days that for the majority of students who wander the halls, there’s usually a reason. They’re bored, or hungry, or emotional, and often they just can’t concentrate. And that is where my role comes in; I’m a problem solver.

Several weeks ago, I came across a student sitting in the hall outside her classroom visibly upset. She had just found out a friend from her old school had passed away. After talking for a few minutes I was able to get her in with one of our student assistant counselors.

One young woman often has days when her hyperactivity gets the best of her. Instead of being written up for skipping classes and wandering the halls because she can’t sit still, we have a standing agreement: she can find me, and we go to the gym where she runs for 20 minutes. Another walks to the gazebo with me when the stress of academics and peers just feels overwhelming.

I’ve come to know many of our population through their music, artwork, and athleticism. Throughout the day, I often visit chorus or band classes where the doors always seem to be open to visitors. Here is where some of our most creative students are often found. Lately the halls are filled with the sounds of Christmas tunes as they anxiously prepare for their upcoming holiday concert on Dec. 20. These individuals are passionate and driven to succeed, although it’s often hard to connect about what’s going on with their lives while 99 other students are practicing on their instruments. Nevertheless, they’re all clearly excited to perform at Disney World this spring. The ceramics classes are another place where it’s easy to catch up with students while their hands are busy molding clay. In these classes I’ve discovered many talented young adults who are more than willing to share their passion. A senior who occasionally finds himself involved in others’ trouble recently taught me how to use a pottery wheel. This time together gives him a chance to vent about recent events in his life, and we find a way to problem solve almost on a daily basis. I also enjoy spending time with members of ConVal’s Unified Soccer team – a team made up of students from all ability levels – who shine as brightly as our other athletes. It’s quite amazing to come into school on Monday morning and hear students greet the stars of Unified in the same manner as the stars of the football team. One of the dedicated, hard-working Unified players also performs in the band, helps run the school store, and plays basketball.

Another part of my job is working with some of the help groups run by the school counseling department. A number of our teens grapple with their gender identity, for example, and the 45-minute session we run each week seems to provide them with much needed support. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that the students who come to these meetings often share problems not unlike those of the rest of the school population. Among them are stresses of school, disagreements with parents, and planning for the future.

I also work with two after-school clubs. Both include wonderfully unique, goal-orientated students. The first, the music department’s Craft Group, spends every Thursday afternoon creating unique works of art to be sold at craft fairs and music events to help themselves and their peers go on that Spring Trip to Disney. The second, the Gender Sexuality Alliance (known as the Gay Straight Alliance for many years), works to create a more accepting school, change stereotypes, and organize events to raise awareness around the LGBT community. This particular group of teens is able to divide tasks and create a powerful sense of belonging among each other. They see themselves as a family and look to each other for support and advice during the school day.

Yes, I was nervous during my first few days at ConVal, but I learned, just as the incoming ninth graders did at their first day assembly: If you work hard and be kind, the rest will fall into place.

Alisha Davis is ConVal’s culture monitor.