Seeking to build on an already good school environment, Belleville Christian School has created a new position with the primary goal of enhancing student relations, particularly amongst girls in Grades 5 and 6.
Principal Jennifer Shoniker says families usually enrol their children aged seven and over in the independent school for two reasons — safety and a bully-free environment.
“Parents come looking for a safe place for their kids, where their kids can find their relational legs so that they can become self advocates and gain confidence,” says Shoniker.
She notes girls in Grade 5 and 6 tend to lack the emotional and social maturity to navigate relationships in a healthy way, so the hope is that this new position will help them gain that maturity.
As of September, Ingrid Roeper has taken on this role, titled director of student life, which also includes being the lead on all kinds of extra-curricular activities, from student council to student week.
“She keeps things pretty lively around here,” says Shoniker with a chuckle.
Roeper’s main focus is forming relationships with the girls of Grades 5 and 6, and then using that social currency she develops to share tools and strategies to help the girls enhance their relationships.
The result is that the girls who are struggling have a voice, “and we have a mechanism in place to bring about restoration and healing,” says Shoniker.
She adds she would consider this position innovative because “we’re making it up as we go along.”
“There’s no handbook for this,” she says, noting new strategies are discussed and explored weekly.
A key learning to date is the amount of time and dedication this initiative has required.
“Because the girls now have a voice, you’ve got to take the time to listen to that voice, or else you’ve shot yourself in the foot,” says Shoniker.
Taking the personality of the director into account is also important, she says.
“It takes someone who holds the heart of each student and is passionate about speaking life into that child … who is an intercessor in both the social and spiritual realm for the girls.
“And it takes someone who is an advocate for the girls to the adults in their life,” she says, adding the person must also have the trust of both the girls and parents.