Building a stronger village to support Valparaiso students has taken precedence this year for the newly formed Valparaiso Community Schools Culture and Student Services Team (CSST), composed of Director Cicely Powell, Home-School Advisor Michelle Bush, and Student Leadership/Climate Coordinator Denise Koebcke. With a focus on building community partnerships to enhance student services and support, the team has taken on the issues students have said are their biggest concerns: stress and anxiety, healthy relationship skills, and substance use/abuse. Valparaiso community stakeholders have stepped up in a big way in order to fund exciting new prevention, social-emotional, and academic opportunities for our kids.
The Porter County Community Foundation has provided funding for the nationally acclaimed evidence-based program, Sources of Strength which will be rolled into the LEAD Mentoring framework to provide best-practice suicide/substance abuse prevention training to secondary staff and hundreds of high school mentors. SOS promotes a no-trauma-story approach, focusing instead on building hope, help, and strength; research shows this strength-based approach is most effective. SOS-trained LEAD staff and mentors will then continue to work with all 6th and 7th graders in the district and expand into a new support initiative for freshmen and sophomores at VHS. CSST also was granted a Secured School Safety Grant to fund School Guard 911 and extensive camera equipment to enhance physical safety at VHS.
The City of Valparaiso and Center Township, in their ongoing fight against substance abuse and its causes, have partnered with the VCS Culture and Student Services Team to provide innovative new social-emotional and academic opportunities like Around the Table, Brainology, and MindUp! for K-12 students and their families. These opportunities utilize latest research, neuro-science, and a brain-centric approach to teaching positive social-emotional and academic skills; all have been proven to reduce stress, increase connection, improve academic performance, strengthen resiliency, and help children thrive in a more supportive setting both at home and at school.
In addition to the highlights above and LEAD mentor program expansions, the CSST has coordinated targeted interventions such as Philanthropy Bootcamp, Valpo Strong Summer programming, restorative justice training, JDC discussion forums for incarcerated youth, Let’s Start Talking forums on diversity and relationships for staff and students at VHS, and yearly state-mandated bullying prevention training for all stakeholders in the VCS. Additional community partnerships have been formed with The Caring Place’s Amanda Forum, the Valparaiso Parks Dept., Boys and Girls Club, VU, the Urban League, Centier and First Source banks. For a complete and ongoing list of CSST news and community partners, please check out our LEAD System website on the VCS District Homepage.