A New Year brings endless possibilities. And Middlebrook School principal Lauren Feltz has big plans for 2018.

“Middlebrook School is a wonderful place where learners grow by engaging in diverse and robust programs of study. And, for many students it is a comfortable place for friendships to flourish,” says Feltz. “That said, there is some important work to do on school climate. This fall we began a difficult process of recognizing and naming some problems in our school culture.”

The unfortunate incidents of intolerance in the fall gave momentum to work that was already in planning stages. And now, with the new year, Feltz is beginning to implement the important school climate efforts.

To that end, Feltz is focused on ensuring that every Middlebrook student and staff member feels known, acknowledged, respected and connected. Admittedly, it’s a “lofty goal,” yet long-term efforts are in place, reflecting the school’s ongoing commitment.

On Jan. 11 all Middlebrook students participated in an assembly program called “Step Up,” an interactive, anti-bullying program for middle school students that was developed to promote and support an inclusive and respectful school environment.

Facilitated by presenters from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Step Up is designed to “give a voice to the targets of bullying and prejudice, build empathy in the aggressors, and inspire bystanders to become allies.”

“This kind of programming is very important to the ongoing, expanded climate work we are doing here at Middlebrook,” explains Feltz.

The climate work is driven by action research. The most recent survey of the school’s students, staff, and parents revealed that while overall, Middlebrook is a great place for both children and teachers, there is a small percentage who feel mistreated and excluded.

“Our overarching goal is to ensure that Middlebrook is a safe and nurturing environment for all of our learners,” says Feltz.

The conversations that followed Step Up were important and quite revealing, according to Feltz. Step Up served as a platform for students to talk amongst their teams about things going on in school that they don’t like and want to see stopped. “Our students learned a lot about each other and it was particularly eye-opening to hear what some of them found offensive.”

The survey data also highlighted that when adults intervene, it doesn’t help the situation. “It’s important for the children to listen to each other and respond accordingly. And, in turn, we need to equip them with the strategies to deal with behavior that rocks their world.”

As part of this continuum of behavior, Feltz has challenged her students to a new way of responding. “Often students engaged in mean behavior are trying to be funny, trying to make their friends laugh. When students see a peer doing something mean, I am asking them not to smile, laugh or nod along. Even if they don’t feel comfortable saying something, this simple act of not reinforcing the mean behavior will have huge positive impacts.”

In a Jan. 16 email to the Middlebrook School community, Feltz outlined additional planned efforts in development that underscore the commitment to tolerance and intentional kindness:

  • Middlebrook staff, students and parents will serve on the Community Climate Steering Committee, facilitated by Wilton’s safe school climate coordinator, Kim Zemo. A key focus Feltz would like to see coming out of this committee will be a review of practices and traditions, to make sure that students have joyful, memorable experiences while at the same time ensuring that no students find the activities isolating.

  • Middlebrook teacher Cindy Beck-Moore has started work with a steering committee of student leaders to prepare for the foundation of an Upstander Club. ADL training will be provided for students, and this club will be open to all Middlebrook students.

  • Team Change, the Kindness Club, and the Middlebrook Student Government continue to work on student-driven school climate initiatives.

  • Four members of the Middlebrook faculty will be trained in the Where Everyone Belongs (WEB) program, which is the middle school version of the Wilton High School Link Crew program from the Boomerang project. You can find more information about WEB here.

  • The scheduling of an evening presentation featuring Judith Altmann, a Holocaust survivor, and Agnes Vertes, president of the Holocaust Child Survivors of Connecticut. The event will be for both students and parents to attend together.

“I am proud of the work we are taking on and I am proud of everyone who makes up our community here at Middlebrook. It is a wonderful place to work and to be a student. Our school climate data indicates some areas in which we need to grow, and there’s an unwavering commitment throughout the school to improve. There is much to be celebrated at Middlebrook.”