Sunday, August 17, 2014

We are driven by five genetic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. William Glasser

With the new school year looming on the horizon, I want to address the importance of a child and the feeling of "belonging" that is so essential to being happy in school.  A well-adjusted student is one who has a stake in the welfare of the school and one who is a good citizen and ambassador of the school.  Every student needs to have a personal connection to the school, whether it be through a teacher, a class, a sport, or an activity.  I believe this is true for all schools, but it is especially important for those in middle and high schools.  (If you doubt the veracity of that statement, think of all of the school tragedies that have occurred since the atrocity at Columbine. Virtually all of the perpetrators were "loners" who did not "belong" at school.)

When a student participates on a sports team, the participation practically guarantees new friends and opportunities at school and beyond.  As a coach, I promote team activities so that everyone is included and all of the boys on the golf team have an opportunity to get to know each other, as players and friends.  During practice rounds, part of my coaching strategy includes having the new team members play with the boys who have been on the team for a year or more.  I want the new players to get to know the culture and expectations of our team.  I am sure that most coaches encourage good sportsmanlike behavior and inclusion of all team members. 

But what if your son or daughter or student is cut from a team?  Although being cut is a difficult hurdle to overcome, most schools offer many activities, and you should encourage your child or student to get involved. If you are the teacher and you know a student has a special interest, try to steer him or her toward that club or activity.  At my former school, activities included: Student Council and its many special committee heads;  Key Club;  library assistant; Spanish , French, German, and Latin Clubs; Talent Show, Spring Musical; Yearbook, Newspaper; Amnesty International; SADD; Chess Club, Band, Orchestra, Choir, Drama,  and Ukulele Club, just to name a few. 

Belonging to a group at school can actually change a student's entire view of school.  Years ago, I had a very shy young man in my English II class.  He had a quiet sense of humor, but not very much self confidence.  I suggested to him that he should audition for an emcee role in the Talent Show (which I was directing.)  He did, and his transformation was unbelievable.  This young man was not athletic, but drama became his "sport."  He appeared in every musical and stage show at North Allegheny for the next three years until he graduated, and seeing him perform made my heart burst with pride.  He was so afraid, until he felt that he "belonged", and everything in his school life improved, from grades to friendships, as well as notoriety for his roles on stage.  He went from being a star in my classroom to being a star in the school. It is amazing how a sense of belonging can change a person.

Help the young people in your charge or home to find something they really enjoy at school. The sense of fulfillment they get may even turn into a career. A young lady who was the treasurer in four high school musicals became a CPA with Deloitte and Touche. I can think of at least five young people from my Introduction to Theater classes and the Talent Shows and Spring Musicals who are now appearing on Broadway.

High school can be a great time in the lives of young people, but only if they feel that sense of belonging. Kids will listen to caring adults who want what is best for them.  Be that caring adult for someone this school year.

Rittman Publishing, LLC

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