Defining Kentlake’s identity with a motto | Kentlake Site Council

Kentlake High School needs a motto, a slogan, a phrase that captures what the school is about, what its values are and can genuinely contribute to an overarching effort to change the culture.

That’s one thing we talked about at the Site Council meeting on Nov. 30.

It ties into everything we talked about, too, from behavior issues among the freshman class to helping the seniors have a better culminating project process to the professional development math department teachers have participated in this year.

And I tell you what, I haven’t got a clue what a good motto would be for Kentlake, all I could think of initially were Kentwood’s rallying cries.

During announcements at Kentwood, the person reading the bulletin will say “It’s great to be alive!” And the entire student body will respond quite loudly with “It’s great to be a Conk!”

Also, more recently the school has incorporated the slogan, “Conquerors think. Thinkers conquer.”

A great play on the school mascot, the Conqueror, something I use often when writing sports headlines.

As a University of Washington graduate I also think of the recently adopted slogan, “Go Purple. Be Gold,” as well as the name of the school’s fight song, “Bow down to Washington.”

I have often posted on Twitter and Facebook for teams to “Bow down, baby!” when my Huskies have beaten an opponent in sports.

When I was a freshman at Gonzaga I spent my first two years of college there, it’s a long story for another time, I worked in the athletic department. Before volleyball matches we’d give out cups with the team’s schedule on it. On the plastic cups was another great slogan, “When they zig, we zag!”

Oh, sure, the mascot is the Bulldog but I never say “Go Bulldogs!” I always, while yelling at the TV during basketball games and high fiving whomever is nearest, will say “Go Zags!”

What all those schools have in common is a well defined identity as not just an educational environment but as a community.

So, what should Kentlake’s slogan be? What defines it not just as a school but as a community?

Great questions. I don’t have answers. Not right now.

While someone more clever than I comes up with ideas for that, let me cover the other topics.

Freshmen have gotten into more fights than the other classes with four this year versus two for the class of 2014 and one for the seniors. Now, that’s not to say there have been an alarming number of fights, but this is some cause for concern according to Kentlake Principal Joe Potts.

And with winter break looming, it may not get better until after the holidays, according to a subtle comment by English teacher Tammy Barnhart.

“Past experience has taught me things get a little bit crazy during the last few days before holiday break,” said social studies teacher Mike Shepard.

Something about vacation and winter holidays seem to make things harder for the kids who are struggling, especially those who are in crisis at home.

We spent a fair amount of time talking about ways staff at the school can further help kids who are struggling regardless of what grade they’re in and one anecdote Potts brought up really hit home with me.

He talked about a student who had been suspended. The boy’s home life lacks structure, support or interest on the part of his mother, who apparently leaves the teen home for weeks at a time. I have an idea what this kid is going through.

My own mother was a nurse’s aide and would be gone for several days at a time when I was in high school working as an in-home care provider for sick folks. Even when my mom was around there was an emotional disconnect, a distinct lack of interest in supporting my educational efforts – when I offered to show her my report card she often said, ‘Did you pass your classes?,’ and when I said yes, she would say then that’s all she needed to know – and trying to get her to do anything to show support as far as my extracurricular activities was like pulling teeth.

The only reason I got through high school was because I had two extraordinary, caring teachers who provided as much time and support as they could given the demands of their jobs.

My suggestion was to provide kids in crisis the opportunity to connect with adults, especially with someone like me, because I’ve been there and because I was that kid.

Another excellent suggestion was to try and connect younger students with upperclassmen.

And as far as helping the freshmen feel connected to Kentlake, Potts said he has been working with Athletic Director Bruce Rick to get students involved in sports.

I also liked the idea of identifying upperclassmen who are leaders to be examples to the freshmen as to how they should behave at school.

Shepard urged that all these messages be presented in a positive manner because he’s seen it work well at other schools he’s worked at in the past.

There are events planned for later in the school year to help further improve the culture.

Potts talked about two major events, Challenge Day, which is scheduled for early February and Be The Change Day which is likely going to happen at the end of April.

Challenge Day,, is a national program that has been done at Kent-Meridian for a few years now and is similar to the Breaking Down the Walls program Kentwood brought to its campus earlier in the school year.

“The theory is if you know someone’s story, you are more likely to communicate with them and less likely to bully them,” Potts said. “I’m interested in how we can get kids from various ethnic groups to tell each other their stories. It could be transformative for the culture of this high school.”

Kirsten Roberts, a social studies teacher who is also serving as an administrative intern this year, said she serves on a district-wide committee with a Kentwood student who said the Breaking Down the Walls program had a huge impact and continues do to so still.

The important thing, several members of the Site Council noted, is to make sure the themes of those events can be sustained throughout this school year and beyond.

Another crucial part of improving culture at Kentlake is the culminating project and advisory.

I’ve had a few Kentlake students come through over the years to do job shadow experiences with me and I can say what I’ve learned from them, as well as from talking with other students, is the culminating project could be much better.

It pales in comparison to what Tahoma High requires of its graduating seniors.

And from what I learned last year, advisory has changed so much and from one year to the next, it’s become a hindrance to students’ work on the project rather than a help thereby defeating the purpose.

I’ve told Potts that I have not been impressed with the school’s culminating project process.

He agreed it needs work.

“Administrators and counselors are looking at how to do the culminating project and advisory better,” he said during the meeting. “It could be so much more, it could be so much better.”

Theresa Turner, who teaches social studies at Kentlake, said her buy-in when advisory was introduced was the idea that students would spend four years in advisory with one teacher allowing them to build relationships and know they had the continuity of support of that one teacher.

Lately, it’s been more about the dreaded “Silent Sustained reading.”

While that particular exercise surely has value it seems like advisory time could be better spent, well, at least that’s what I’ve been told by students.

I’m not sure how advisory could be better, but, I’d start with chucking the focus on SSR and make it about the culminating project while managing to meet the needs of all the students whether they’re freshmen or seniors.

Well, I didn’t say it would be easy.

Let’s end on a good note, though, and talk about math.

No. No. Really. Math can be good.

Math teachers at Kentlake are participating in this new professional development program that Potts seemed to be excited about because it is getting results.

Recently the principal was in a math class and he heard a teacher tell the kids that if they didn’t know the answer to a question on the test, just write down “I don’t know,” something that can empower a student and help the teacher figure out where the kid is struggling.

Barnhart talked about an experience as a sixth grader where she felt like the teacher never made an effort to make sure the students were learning but rather sped through lessons on the overhead projector.

It’s amazing how negative experiences like that can stick with us. I know I felt too intimidated by my algebra teacher my freshman year of high school to pipe up and say I was completely, utterly lost. I developed a pretty severe aversion to math as a result when I had gotten As in pre-alegbra the year before.

It also had a crushing effect on my confidence. To this day I remain thankful my husband, who sat behind me in geometry sophomore year and without whom I wouldn’t have gotten a middling grade, is good at math. Someone will have to help our daughter with math someday and once we get to equations with letters and symbols it’s on him.

So, to see Kentlake math teachers embracing this new approach is heartening, because maybe there will be fewer kids like me who later avoided math like it was widespread infectious disease.

Making this school a better place seems to be is a slow, steady uphill climb.

If you have any serious suggestions for a motto for Kentlake, send them along, because it’s just another step in the right direction.





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