After inconsistent learning models due to the pandemic, Cambridge-Isanti High School is committed to a whole-person experience for students and staff.

During the Cambridge-Isanti School Board meeting Thursday, March 24, Cambridge-Isanti High School Principal Steve Gibbs, together with other staff, touched on ways the school is focusing on supporting students and staff as they returned to in-person learning in September.

Gibbs reflected on the pandemic that began in March 2020 to the beginning of this school year, which began on Sept. 7.

“The kids had 551 days of inconsistency,” Gibbs said, as he reflected on the students and staff going through distance learning, hybrid learning and variations of both of those learning models since March of 2020.

Gibbs said when the students returned to in-person learning on Sept. 7, he knew it would be a reset for both students and staff.

“We had learning loss, but we had inconsistent relationships,” Gibbs said. “We felt it, we saw it and knew we had to do something different.”

Gibbs said “a reset on high quality education” involved four key areas: social, emotional, academic and physical.

Social: Teamwork, partnership, unity, assistance, collaboration.

Emotional: Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, social skills.

Academic: Application of knowledge.

Physical: Discipline, habits, practice.

Gibbs said as part of developing the professional learning communities within the building, staff members read “Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators” by Elena Aguilar.

Gibbs said the book focuses on habits and behaviors including: knowing yourself, understanding emotions, telling empowering stories, building communities, being here now, taking care of yourself, focusing on the bright spots and cultivating compassion. The book also focused on disposition, including purposefulness, acceptance, optimism, empathy, humor, positive self-perception, empowerment and perspective.

“We focused on being our best selves so we can put our best self in front of our students,” Gibbs said.

Courtney Strelow, special education coordinator at CIHS, said one of her favorite elements of the “great reset” is The Bluejacket Brag. Strelow said every Sunday night Gibbs sends out a newsletter that includes The Bluejacket Brag, where staff members nominate each other to be recognized for showing compassion, honesty, respect, responsibility and self-discipline. Staff members who are honored are recognized with their photo and a write-up provided by their nominator.

“We have the greatest building and team,” Strelow said.

Another feature Strelow appreciates is the staff chill room. The staff chill room, that can be reserved by staff, is a space where staff can go to take a mental break, to recharge, shift their perspective or take a few calming deep breaths.

Cambridge-Isanti High School Assistant Principal Pam Austad said the school is also refocusing on Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, or PBIS. She said there’s a renewed focus on teaching expected behaviors; focusing on the five character traits of showing compassion, honesty, respect, responsibility and self-discipline; recognizing students for displaying character traits; and building community through larger group celebrations.

“PBIS is not something new, but looked very different for 551 days,” Austad said.

Austad said the staff was pleased to bring back a hot cocoa social for students, where students enjoyed free hot cocoa, live music and social interactions.

“It is something to help build community within our school,” Austad said.

Another tool CIHS has used to promote the five character traits within students is the handing out of blue slips to students when they are caught demonstrating one or more of the character traits. Once the student earns a minimum of five tickets, they can earn special rewards such as a lunch line pass or leaving five minutes early from class. Students earn various prizes for collecting between five and 40 tickets. Austad said a popular prize are students having lunch with a staff member that can be redeemed after a student collects 15 tickets.

Cambridge-Isanti High School Dean of Students Jeremy Miller said a new characteristic of the high school this year is the posting of character signage, reminding students of the meaning behind the five character traits.

“We have posters up around the school to define the traits,” Miller said.

Miller said the high school also has two student chill rooms where students check in for attendance and are allowed to use the room for 10 minutes. If a student needs more time, the student can then meet with their counselor.

A bulletin board has been created within CIHS that promotes positivity by students creating small note cards to hand out to other students.

“In February the bulletin board had a big heart with Post-It Notes around it with different kind sayings on them,” Miller said. “The students grab a card and pass the cards onto other students.”

Gibbs noted other ways the school is supporting students and staff include:

• Triple Bluejacket Days – Celebrate not only our victories in our athletic/activities area, but reinforce the character traits and how we conduct ourselves at CIHS.

• Pep Fest/Send Offs – During this time we not only celebrate a team or group, but teach and guide students in character.

• True Bluejackets – Celebrate students who go above and beyond in showing character.

• Character Breakfasts – Celebrate students who have been nominated by our staff for showing exemplary character in our school.

• PBIS Meetings – Ensure all staff have knowledge of current progress in regards to attendance and behaviors.

• Bleacher Captains – We identify senior leaders who ensure that our student section is representing CIHS with class, dignity and respect at all events.

• Link Crew – Welcome and ease the transition for ninth grade students to CIHS.

• Change to Chill Week – Each day a mental health theme such as coping strategies.

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