Worth a Second Look – Sacred Heart Community School: Beating the Odds

Worth a Second Look – Sacred Heart Community School: Beating the Odds

This is the first of three columns about Sacred Heart Community School in Regina, Saskatchewan. The school has 450 students, in Grades Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 8. In Part One, the staff and students work together to make positive changes in their school. Definitely Worth a Second Look!

My son Adam is a happy Grade Three student at Sacred Heart Community School in Regina, Saskatchewan. Everyday he goes to school, swinging his backpack, his lunch in his Pokemon lunch bag, just like every other Grade 3 student. Yet, that’s where the similarities between Adam and other Grade 3 students ends. Once he enters the school door, his school day will be totally different from students in other Regina schools.

Sacred Heart Community School is unique from any other school in the city of Regina, in its attitude, curriculum, unique grade splits and altered school day. As the Stage Manager for a children’s school touring company, I had been in many schools during the course of my career, but none of the schools had the same positive atmosphere as Sacred Heart School. I wanted to know why. Principal Loretta Tetreault and I met to discuss Sacred Heart School’s amazing story.

Seven years ago, Sacred Heart Community School was a violent and out of control school. It was difficult to point to the specific reason why the school was having difficulties. Poverty, violence and changing trends in parenting styles left the students angry and the parents and staff frustrated and blaming each other. The teachers raised their voices in the classroom. The students were negotiating skills and solved problems with their fists. Loretta Tetreault was asked to help out with the problems at the school.

“I looked out the window at recess,” she recounted. “I had no idea what to do to help this school.” Tetreault knew that she had to think of something by the staff meeting that was scheduled for the end of the day.

Tetreault believed in mutual respect between people. She wanted to move away from a controlling approach to one of complete respect in all situations. She shared her vision with the staff. Sacred Heart Community School was part of the Catholic school division and she was concerned by some of the behaviour that she saw going on. She told the staff that no matter what happened, every child was to be treated as if he/she was the Christ child. If Tetreault saw a staff member out of control, she would intervene and ask the teacher to take a break and follow up with an apology to the student later, once the teacher had calmed down. She only had to intervene twice. The staff agreed that the students would be given choices in every situation, and not ultimatums.

The students needed to learn a different set of negotiating skills. Tetreault met with some students to discuss what could be done to make Sacred Heart School a better school for them. The teachers were surprised by the answer. The students wanted to wear their hats in school. It was a matter of style to the students, not of disrespect to the teachers. Tetreault took their request to the staff. Some teachers were concerned about what the students might show up wearing. Tetreault negotiated an arrangement with the students that satisfied the staff as well. The students could wear their hats, but not at school assemblies or at mass. There were some strange hats worn to school for a while, but to this day, the students respect and keep the arrangement they negotiated with the staff.

Staff and students were involved in creating a responsibility plan. The word discipline was not used in the plan. One of the goals of the plan was to treat every child with dignity and respect no matter what happened. The staff would acknowledge responsible choices on a regular basis, and correct irresponsible choices, focusing on consistent and logical consequences. The staff discovered that, given the choice, the students wanted to be suspended. If suspended, the student would arrange with their friends to be suspended as well. To solve this problem, in-school suspensions were created. The student would spend their suspension away from the classroom, usually in the office. The staff would stop by to encourage the student to make positive choices and counselling would be provided to the student to assist with problem solving. Other positive role model programs were created. A “Caught Being a Positive Role Model” program was instituted to acknowledge students who performed kind acts. Weekly assemblies and the creation of the Triple A Club acknowledged students who met personal goals, and who had excellent attitude and attendance. Triple A Club students went to the movies or the waterslides in recognition of their hard work.

Positive change was happening at the school. With mutual respect happening between students and staff and the responsibility plan in place, the school was on the way to becoming a safe and comfortable environment for learning. The most innovative changes were yet to come.

Next week: Unique grade splits and the creation of the adjusted school day