School-Wide Adopt a Student Programs

by | Nov 25, 2006 | Character and Moral Intelligence

I’ve had so many requests from workshop participants asking how to start a Adopt-A-Student program I decided to include them here. There are no right or wrong ways to implement the program as long as the goal is to create genuine relationships with students you deem are more “at risk.” Here are the basics:

1.Introduce the idea to your staff. You will never get (usually anyway) 100% compliance – so don’t expect it. Instead ask for volunteers. Don’t overlook some staff members: cafeteria worksers, secretaries, custodians. Any adult who cares about kids and who has a daily presence on your campus is a potential adult. Also, do convince staff members this is only a minute a day of caring. The goal is to develp a genuine relationship with students who need emotional support in their lives right now.

2. Identify your at-risk population of students. Don’t profile your students and assume “at risk” students are only impoverished kids or special education students. You’ll lose sight of some students. Instead take a moment (for instance at a staff meeting) to brainstorm students the staff feels could use a little more TLC. You don’t need an assessment nor do you need lengthy descriptions as to “Why” there’s a problem. Just list names on chart paper.

3. Commit to one student. Once you have those lists of students, each staff member ideally “adopts” one student. In larger schools “geographic proximity” is important. The school may be spread out, so it will be difficult for the staff member to locate the student daily. Instead, a staff member can choose a student who he knows he will come into contact with at least once a day (or is in one of his classes).

4. List caring adult gestures. Don’t overlook this one. Take a few minutes as a staff to create a list of simple things adults can do to show students they care (“genuine relationship builders”). The ideas shouldn’t cost a thing and should take no more than a few minutes: smile, use the students name, ask about their personal interests, send an email, set up a personal conference. Then keep the list of caring gestures (or relationship builders) posted in your staff room and keep adding to it throughout the yera.

5. Support that child. The staff member’s job is to support that student in any way possible. Often this entails just taking the time to say hello. This extra personal contact can have miraculous results. Many high-risk students have completely turned around, apparently just because someone was there to care. This may be particularly beneficial on a large campus where students tend to feel more anonymous.

6. Get everyone involved! In addition to the Adopt-a-Student program, staff members can help individual students by providing special support or expertise. (The art teacher can seek out an artistically-inclined student who could use recognition and skill enhancement; a physical educatin teacher can help the child “fit in” better with peers on a playground by teaching a specific new sport or game).

7. Offer support to staff members. Some principals start faculty meetings with a simple three minute “share a student” whip. Each staff member describes one thing that worked to help build a relationship with a student. Another principal divided his staff members into “pairs” (the third grade teacher and fifth; the caefeteria worker and secretary). Those two teachers periodically “check in” with one another to find out how things are going with their student. Other principals send email blasts of relationship building ideas to staff members each week.

8. Continue with the student at least for a semester (if not the year). Some schools have the staff adopt more than one student. You might want to periodically have a counselor or psychologist offer a training or short perspective on behaviors of at-risk students (as well as defense mechanisms).

The goal is to develop a positive relationship with a student. It’s a wonderful way to nurture self-esteem and build positive self-respect. It is also a way to build moral intelligence – after all, the core of moral intelligence is nurturing empathy. True character education is about relationships, relationships, and relationships.

If you have variations to the adopt a student program, please add your ideas to the comment section.