School administrators are implementing several new initiatives and programs at Western Local School District this school year, according to Brock Brewster, superintendent of the district.

“To say that the Western Local Schools family is busily preparing for the upcoming school year is an understatement,” said Brewster. “Western has chosen to undertake a plethora of new initiatives for this upcoming school year and they each fall in with one common theme: a student-centered (and) student-focused environment.”

Among the initiatives and programs in place at Western Local Schools, the one school officials feel will have the most impact county-wide will be the school’s new health clinic. The school has partnered with Southern Ohio Medical Center (SOMC) to offer a primary care health center onsite.

“We believe this will not only benefit our students and community, but will hopefully change the mindset of our students toward preventative care,” said Brewster. “Our goal is to open our kids’ eyes to (what will make) a permanent difference in their lives: primary self care.”

According to Brewster, administrators and staff at Western want to prepare students to become responsible about their health by taking care of themselves physically, mentally and socially.

“We believe the new programs that we have in place address each of those to a greater degree than ever before,” Brewster said. “Our partnership with SOMC will certainly help us to make great strides towards improving our entire community.”

Western Local School District is now part of the Growing Rural Independence through Training (GRIT) Project, according to Brewster.

“I am a strong believer in the ideas behind GRIT and I truly believe that this partnership is a great opportunity to prepare our kids for immediate and lasting success past high school,” said Brewster. “So much of what we do focuses on preparing for college even though we know that, historically, only 20 to 25 percent of our Western kids go to college. We have been leaving a large percentage of our kids unprepared for life after high school.”

Brewster said the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has “pushed the ‘college for all’ mentality,” causing schools “to have to abandon many programs that prepare non-college bound kids for success.”

“This project is designed to get kids in the ‘there is life after high school’ mindset and helps them focus on the things that they are already geared toward,” Brewster said. “There are lots of supports in place through GRIT and we really believe this will be a game-changer for our entire region.”

Western Local School District will be re-implementing a career-based intervention program at the high school level as well.

“This will encourage students to be forward-thinking about future careers and help them begin preparing for their potential careers while still in high school,” said Brewster. “This will partner perfectly with the Career Development Program we put in place last year.”

Western Local School District was “one of a handful” of school districts in Ohio chosen to work with the Adolescent Literacy Pilot, and will be working directly with renowned educational reformer, Mel Riddile. Western was chosen based on the school’s dedication to high-quality literacy instruction and its continuous efforts in school improvement, according to Brewster.

“We have been working with the ODE to improve K-3 literacy and now we will be adding an additional focus for grades four through 12,” said Brewster. “We were also awarded the 21st Century Grant and that will focus on improving both reading and math competency through after school programming over the next five years.”

Western Local School District was also selected to be part of the Proving Ground network or rural schools. Less that 20 Ohio schools were selected for the network, which targets student engagement and attendance.

“We will be working in partnership with Harvard University on this project with the goal of addressing the challenge of chronic absenteeism, college readiness and college enrollment in rural schools,” Brewster said.

This school year, Western Local School District will offer its first-ever Latchkey program to working parents, according to Brewster.

“We want our working parents to be able to focus on their jobs and not worry if their kids are safe at home after school,” said Brewster. “We have made an affordable way for our parents to not have to choose between work and keeping their kids safe after school.”

A social-emotional position and a social-emotional liaison has been added at the school to work with staff, students and parents, Brewster said. These two positions will be directly focused on helping staff members to work effectively with students dealing with extreme poverty and other factors that are barriers to learning and student well-being. The social-emotional learning liaison will work directly with students and will strive to build and strengthen partnerships between community members and the school.

“I am convinced that we won’t ever be as successful academically as we need and want until we address the social and emotional needs of our students,” Brewster said. “We will be developing a student mentoring program that will tie directly with these two positions.”

“We realize that this year will probably bring about some growing pains because of the new initiatives that we are undertaking but we believe that the reward for our work will be worth the effort because we are at a critical point right now where we really need to meet the needs of these kids if we want our school and community to be the kind of place that thrives,” said Brewster.

“Right now we have a high percentage of people, both kids and adults, who are barely surviving from day to day,” Brewster said. “Our goal is to have a thriving school and community and that undoubtedly starts with what we do every day from eight to three and beyond. We are very excited to begin this school year.”

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