High school sometimes seems like a Darwinian environment: survival is dependent on keeping up with the crowd, creating barriers, and maintaining the status quo.
But the status quo sometimes needs a shake-up, and an Arizona State University-led initiative is helping high school and middle school students do just that.
Ten Arizona middle schools and high schools participated in the 2018 Better Together Challenge, a program developed by the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at ASU.
“When schools are inclusive, safe, and equitable, students feel a sense of belonging and comfort," said Professor Laura Hanish, deputy director of the Sanford School. "This helps students to engage and participate in school activities and, ultimately, the benefits are seen in students’ interest in and motivation for school and their achievement.”
What’s unique in the Better Together Challenge is that students are the ones given the reins to be the change agents. The challenge asked students to craft a plan that would promote inclusiveness and equity to better both their school environment and the surrounding community.
“We purposely created the Better Together Challenge in a way that allowed the students to identify the unique needs of their own schools and to create solutions that best address those needs,” Hanish said. “They pitch their ideas, and they are the ones playing an active role in putting their plans into action.”
The students at each school submitted their proposals, and five finalists were selected in February by a challenge review panel to put their plans into action from Feb.10 to April 20, receiving $300 to purchase needed materials or resources.
Students were guided by a faculty adviser and mentors within their community to help implement, document and measure the success of their project.
Students at Compadre Academy in Tempe — under the banner of their team, “K[IN]D” — developed a program to adopt a street, working to maintain a portion of Guadalupe Road in Tempe. They also brought in a plan to promote inclusiveness by creating a welcome ceremony for students transferring to their school, Hanish said.
The other four finalists included two middle schools and two high schools: Kino Junior High School in Mesa, Santan Junior High School in Chandler, Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix and Tempe High School.
On April 30, the review panel weighed the results of the finalists' projects and selected a winner. Compadre Academy received a $500 prize to sustain their project for another year. Runner-up Tempe High School received $200 and third-place winners Kino, Santan and Mountain Pointe received $100 each.
Better Together is part of the PROMISE Initiative, which fosters programs that speak to ASU’s larger goal of inclusiveness and embody the idea of connecting with communities through mutually beneficial partnerships.
“By partnering with local middle and high schools, we are creating an opportunity for diverse youth to connect with ASU faculty and graduate students and to translate research knowledge in ways that improve school environments,” Hanish said.
The 2018 Better Together Challenge was funded by the Halle Foundation, which has already committed $10,000 to run a second challenge next year which will include more area school districts.