by Barbara Cameron
The Deer River School Board met for over an hour and a half on Monday evening, Oct. 20, hearing from several guests as well as four of the regular presenters from the staff of the two schools. The board clerk, Sarah Bellefy, the district’s assessment coordinator, Susan Akre, and the transportation supervisor, Mark Schjenken, were absent but the other regular participants in school board meetings were present. The board approved student trips and planning for the elementary school facilities study and a proposal for a multi-age facility study.
After the flag pledge recitation, directors rearranged their agendas in order to hear first from the music teachers, Lenora Evans and David Myers, and three students in the band and choir programs concerning their proposed trip to Memphis and New Orleans next spring, Mar. 4 – 9. They sought the board’s permission to take the bus trip. For about $628 apiece they will ride 25 hours each way and visit a number of destinations on this educational excursion.
Approximately 88 students will be accompanied by eight adults on this tour arranged by the same travel company the school engaged for the Chicago trip last year, Leisure Time Tours. Myers highly recommended the company and its very competitive pricing.
Student Tyler Grose told the board that many kids living in the Deer River area would never have an opportunity to visit anywhere outside of Minnesota, so this was a chance for them to get an experience in different cultures, despite economic hardships.
Choral Director Evans said the group had started fundraising activities immediately after the 2013 trip. Fruit sales are happening right now, and there will be several other food sales coming up. Ali Juntunen told the board her trip was already paid for from her various fundraising activities over the last many months.
Student Emma Shaw had also participated in the Chicago trip, and she spoke of the benefits of being able to visit such renowned music centers. The band and choir will also have a chance to be critiqued at the University of Memphis before they face their music competitions later in the spring in Minnesota.
The directors were enthusiastic about the trip, and the balance of fun and educational opportunities that it promised. They unanimously voted their approval.
Gerald White was also seeking the board’s approval for a trip. He was speaking on behalf of the students who would be going to Washington, D.C. as part of the National Christmas Tree activities at the beginning of December.
The students would be 7th to 12th graders who met a number of stringent requirements, he said. Deer River O-Gitch-I-Dah Club members would be part of a larger group of five busloads of students from nine school districts across the region who would be traveling cross country to Washington.
“This is an awesome opportunity for the kids,” White said. They would be visiting the Smithsonian, the Capitol and the Department of the Interior, among other places. He told the board he hoped they could approve their participation in this educational opportunity that the tribe was providing.
It isn’t a school-sponsored trip, per se, although it’s going through O-Gitch-I-Dah. The students will do fundraising, but the Band has promised to make up whatever funds are lacking. “This is going to happen!” White said.
The Deer River contingent has a budget of $20,000. They have made about $3,000 so far, and he figures they can come up with another 10 or 12 thousand by the end of November.
School board director Lee Pederson, always an advocate of educational travel experiences for students, was glad this trip could be largely funded from outside sources. He was appreciative of the chaperone plans, the background checks, and that everything seemed to be in order.
Superintendent Matt Grose was wondering who would be legally responsible for the trip. White said it was the Tribe, and that all students would have to have signed forms from their parents or guardians.
The motion was made to permit the O-Gitch-I-Dah students to go on this trip, and their absence from classes would not be counted against them. It passed unanimously.
Before he gave the floor to the next speaker, White passed along some depressing information from the National Indian Education Association meeting in Alaska that he attended. It was a report from the most current national study (of 2011) that says so many Indian kids across the country are not meeting standards. He said he would forward the website link to Grose, and asked the board members to take a look.
Heather Schjenken, with The Movement, was next up to share some new data from the third year of their grant and some cohort data, as well. She began with the now familiar social norms theory of the contrast between perceived behavior and actual behavior with respect to student drinking. In 2012, when they began, 73 percent of students reported they were not drinking monthly or more often; but 80 percent of students believed the opposite, that kids were using.
This is the third year now, and things appear to be trending in the right direction. In the spring survey, 84 percent of students reported themselves not using, while 53 percent perceived that other kids are using. This new data is very rewarding for Schjenken.
There is a risk ratio here. Kids who perceive that others are drinking are more likely (even five times more likely) to be drinking themselves.
Awareness of Movement messaging has skyrocketed from 30 percent in 2012, to 85 percent in 2013, to 93 percent in 2014. Kids, parents and community members see the messages everywhere, on billboards, cups, backpacks, posters, footballs – anything.
Why is messaging so important? Schjenken said that if you’re a kid who thinks most kids don’t drink, you are 14 times less likely to drink. The message this year is that it’s never a good idea for teens to drink.
Schjenken is an optimistic and energetic advocate of kids and the Movement campaign, and also very realistic. She’s concerned about the kids who do use, and how to reach them. One of the significant findings from their Movement work is that kids’ relationships with adults, both with their parents and with others, really matters.
Of the kids last spring who reported any alcohol use at all, 14 percent had a higher-level relationship with adults, while 38 percent of them had a lower-level relationship with adults. As Schjenken put it, “We’re always balancing hope with concern.”
The relationship of students with school staff – caring and concerned adults in their lives — is a powerful thing. To date, more than 20 adults from this area have gone out to Colorado for Positive Community Norms training, which Schjenken described as literally mind changing for participants.
What’s ahead? They start work on Oct. 29 to apply for the Drug-Free Communities Grant, which will provide more leeway for tackling problems. Schjenken’s own desire is to go after marijuana. Project Northland will be providing the Movement’s sustainable curriculum to King School, 1st through 5th grades.
Years four and five of the current grant will have a focus on parents and families. They want to work with the Deer River and Leech Lake clinics on messaging and role modeling. Whenever there’s a home sports activity on a Friday, Schenjenken said they would like to be able to provide a two-hour opportunity for parents and kids to hang out together, alcohol free. The week before they’d had a simple bonfire, and there were over 250 kids who attended.
How does Deer River compare to state statistics on 9th grade alcohol use? In 2001 the state average was 30.4 percent, and Deer River’s was considerably higher at 37.4 percent. Last year, the state average had dropped by 15.7 percent, but the Deer River cohort’s average had dropped by 23.4 percent. “That’s the effectiveness of this grant,” she said.
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