Fostering belonging in Sisters schools


Last updated 10/17/2023 at 9:56am

As a community we have much to be proud of in Sisters. By most traditional measures, we have one of the strongest school districts in the state. We believe that a comprehensive education grounded in the community’s core values is key to the success of all students in Sisters Country.

Prior to the pandemic, the Sisters School District started to engage the community around creating a new mission and vision for our schools. This process included a dozen meetings with diverse stakeholder groups to get feedback on the community’s core values and the District’s role in relation to those values and supporting our students. It was an inspiring process to listen to the hopes and dreams that our community holds for the more than 1,100 students that we serve.

The core values that emerged were:

• Invest in relationships that support every student’s growth and sense of belonging;

• Create extraordinary learning experiences that make learning real;

• Empower and support students and staff to become the best versions of themselves; and

• Prepare students to be courageous individuals, effective communicators, critical thinkers, and problem solvers for life.

Sisters School District’s mission is “Community connected education that creates Belonging, Prepares, and Inspires.” The “Belong” goal is that every student is known and connected to adults, peers, and resources to develop emotional self-regulation and a foundation of resilience.

The book “Visible Learning,” written by educational researcher John Hattie, synthesized findings from 1,600+ meta-analyses of 95,000+ studies involving 300 million students. He found that teacher-student relationships, school climate, and sense of belonging all meaningfully contribute to accelerating academic success.

A summary of findings from 90 studies showed that school belonging had beneficial effects across several key health domains for K-12 students. Students who felt a greater sense of school belonging had lower substance use, less risky sexual behaviors, experienced less violence, and reported better mental health.

Not only does this community value manifest in how we interact with each other, but this approach is systemically supported by Sisters schools by prioritizing counselors in every building, small class sizes, and unique programming. Throughout the Sisters School District, students have an opportunity to take programs and classes that are hard to find anywhere else. We look for opportunities to extend the belonging to the community through a myriad of partnerships that support place-based learning and community connections.

It is foundational in schools that belonging is authentically supported by the belief that all students can learn. Having the belief that all students can learn and improve themselves through their effort and education is referred to in education as having a “growth mindset.” Research from Washington University in St. Louis connected the groundbreaking work of Dr. Carol Dweck on mindset and its relationship to belonging.

This fits with research from outside of WashU showing that when students perceive that their instructors believe they can improve, students feel a greater sense of belonging and perform better.” (Muenks et al., 2020).

This is the belonging that we strive for in our school system.

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that school is a key place for youth to feel connected. The social isolation experienced by many took a significant toll on the well-being of students across the globe. Rates of depression in U.S. youth rose, youth experienced greater stress, anxiety, social isolation, grief, and loss. The disruption of the pandemic spotlighted just how important schools are as places for connection, safety, and relationships that promote youth health and well-being. Now more than ever, schools and communities are aware of the need to promote school belonging for all students.

The evidence is clear, from primary school through middle school and high school, and even into higher education, it’s important to prioritize relationships and belonging to support student wellness and student success.

As we look forward to the upcoming academic year, let us remember that our district’s vision is not just a statement on paper but a shared commitment to providing the best education possible. Together, we can create an environment where excellence thrives and every student has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Thank you for your continued support, trust, and partnership in supporting the belonging and community connectedness of our students.

Superintendent Scholl will be one of six panelists at a town hall discussion on loneliness and social isolation at Sisters Fire District Community Hall at 5 p.m. on Thursday, October 26.


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