It’s no secret that the last few years have been hard. Couple a worldwide pandemic with the
already difficult pre-teen years for students and it’s no wonder that our academic scores took a
Still, how we respond to those scores and put supports in place for our youth matters. And at
Levey Middle School, if we’ve learned anything from the last few years, it’s this: if we truly
want to create change that has lasting implications for tomorrow’s adults, we must change the
narrative around how we guide students.
I’ve spent my career in Michigan schools. I’ve seen my fair share of programs designed to
support students as they navigate life alongside their academic pursuits, and I can confidently
say that the resources available to schools today have come a long way from what they once
If you think back to your early years, and I mean really think, I’m sure you can think of a
handful of choices that you’ve made and would handle differently today. Life isn’t always easy,
and kids will make mistakes. Hopefully, if we’re doing our jobs right, they make less of them as
Let’s take this school year as an example. This is the closest to ‘normal’ that school has been
for students in years. Still, today’s eighth graders are 2020’s sixth graders. A normal transition
from childhood to pre-teen years was hindered by the pandemic, and now further complicated
by their pending transition to their high school and teenage years. The experiences they
normally would have had just three years ago, didn’t happen. Now, those missed growth
opportunities are rearing their heads.
At the start of this academic year, Levey Middle School had 25 suspensions within the first few
weeks of school as a result of tardiness, dress code violations, cell phone use and other small
mistakes. Soon, that number dropped to seven, and then two, and now? Zero. We didn’t
change our policies, and we didn’t expel students. We, instead, changed our narrative.
Rather than punishing students by preventing them from being in an academic learning
environment, we’ve implemented programming that educates them on their behavior, how
they could change it, and then guides them through self reflection. That’s when learning
actually occurs. At the intersection of knowledge and its application in our own worlds.
We didn’t do this alone. We took advantage of programming made free to schools during the
pandemic, and as we saw success, other school buildings in our district took note and got on
board. That programming — Michigan Cares — is still available for free to every school in
Michigan today. If we want to see similar results where more students can stay in the learning
environments and succeed both academically and socially, we as school leaders must make
that a priority in our planning.
Classroom programming designed to help students examine their abilities, strengths, interests
and talents by focusing on their social and emotional development is vital to supporting their
academic career and future. It is only by recognizing and prioritizing an educational system
that validates and supports these programs that we can actually help students set healthy,
realistic and optimistic aspirations for themselves.
Our school leaders are to be commended for helping to change the narrative at Levey Middle
School to one that removes barriers to students’ academic learning and results in increased
engagement in the classroom. If we truly want to educate our students and build tomorrow’s
leaders, every school must change how we approach overall education to one where a culture
of learning from our mistakes is truly valued.
Joel Blankenship serves as the coordinator of culture, diversity and inclusion at Levey