Supportive Schools: A Key Indicator for Academic Success | Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School


Supportive Schools: A Key Indicator for Academic Success

Andrea Calloway, of the SJND Counseling Department, introduces all freshman students to the school’s Community Curriculum, a program that teaches the importance of supporting a positive environment for all students at SJND. Here, she writes about the benefits of a supportive school environment.

A positive school climate engages students in learning and helps promote academic success, research shows, and SJND is able to cultivate a positive school climate because of the caring relationships that exist among all of our community members.

In a recent student survey at SJND, 88 percent of students agreed that there is an adult on campus that they could go to if they were being bullied or if they had witnessed bullying. The counselors have found that an essential component to building a healthy school community is by empowering students and staff members to make positive decisions that foster an environment of safety. Other survey results included:

  • Ninety-five percent of students feel that SJND students treat one another with respect
  • Ninety-four percent of students feel they have a sense of belonging at SJND
  • And, 96 percent of the students reported that the school respects the diversity of all students, regardless of race, gender, culture or sexual orientation

It is evident that a culture of care has been ingrained in the attitudes and behaviors of our Pilots. And when students learn that the adults and other students on campus are invested in their well-being, the students will likely become more invested in their own well-being, including academic achievement, according to “The Role of Supportive School Environments in Promoting Academic Success” by author Eric Schaps, Ph.D., founder of the Developmental Studies Center in Oakland.

The first step at SJND is to educate freshman students on how to create a safe environment on campus. “SJND is a Welcoming Environment” is a program designed by the counselors, and it allows students to have an open and honest dialogue about personal and real world issues related to bullying.

By presenting the program in theology classes, the goal is to make students aware of the positive school climate that is already in place at SJND and how they can maintain this environment in their role as a student. As a culminating activity in the program, every student makes a pledge about what they will do to perpetuate a culture of care at SJND. These pledges are then posted in their homeroom classes as a reminder throughout the school year. For example, students have pledged to:

  • “Accept everyone as they are and love them for who God created them to be.”
  • “Stand up to anyone using words to hurt others.”
  • “Not judge people for their outward appearance and insecurities.”
  • “Accept everyone without judgment.”

Our goal in delivering this curriculum is to promote trust and to create and maintain open lines of communication among the students and adults on campus. It is also our hope that the social and emotional learning accomplished in this program can help students become more respectful and considerate of others.

And students are responding favorably to the program. “This presentation shows students that SJND is always there to help you, as well as make you a better person,” a student said. “It shows that we are a family and we stick together.” An overwhelming number of students shared similar reflections, with 97 percent of the freshman class agreeing that the program makes SJND a safer place for all students, and 98 percent of students agreeing that the program made them think more critically about their own actions toward their peers.

As counselors, we see the positive outcomes of the guidance curriculum in the surveys, but we are also inspired when students come to us willing to share personal stories or to raise awareness about a struggle their peer may be experiencing. We are certain that the time spent with the students in the classroom has helped to facilitate an alliance between students, parents and teachers, always maintaining and respecting the trust necessary to cultivate this success.

And when students feel supported by their schools, they will work harder to achieve academically, research by Dr. Schaps shows. He includes a statement by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning: “Improving the social and emotional climate of schools, and the social and emotional soundness of students, advances the academic mission of the schools in important ways....Satisfying the social and emotional needs of students does more than prepare them to learn. It actually increases their capacity to learn.”

At Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School, our goal as a counseling department is to focus on attaining desirable long-term outcomes that are developed during adolescence with the support of caring adults that can be carried out independently throughout one’s life. In doing so, we are able cultivate a culture of success, a development of the total self and a community of love.

In a Social Relationships survey, a student reported, “Honestly, I feel incredibly loved and safe at SJND, something that is a rarity at many other schools around here.” Our hope is that all students graduate from SJND with a similar feeling.