The word “impact” is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “to have a direct effect on.” To effect is to change, and at Friendswood Junior High, the effect – the change – being seen in students since the start of the Mustang Impact program, has been one of positivity, safety and support.
The Mustang Impact program was started by Principal Dana Drew at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year to attempt to create a culture of kindness and responsibility, but a plan for change was formulated many months before Mustang Impact was implemented into the curriculum.
Drew noticed a need for change as he began to realize how much the culture of his students had shifted in a negative way. He said he noticed students were very smart, but unable to do simple tasks such as holding a conversation, making eye-contact, rebounding from failure and building relationships: skills which are not usually taught in class. He mentioned his concerns to Superintendent Thad Roher during a meeting in January of 2018. It was during this conversation Drew said Roher asked him a rather impactful question. He asked, “How are you going to change the culture of your teachers to deal with the culture of your kids?”
“I keep hearing that question in my mind and it’s made me realize we, the adults, are responsible for this culture change in our students,” Drew said. “We are the ones who have allowed it to happen, so we’re the one who are going to have to fix it by modeling the behaviors we want to see.”
Autumn Bockart, FJH language arts teacher, stated she has always tried modeling good behaviors for her students.
“[The Mustang Impact values have] always been my philosophy and my mindset. This is the way I’ve always conducted my classroom and it’s the way I have always interacted with the kids,” Bockart said. “Now that everyone is on board and all of the teachers are doing it, I feel like it’s seeping out into the hallways and other classrooms and promoting a better climate overall.”
Drew has noticed a change in the climate since the start of Mustang Impact too.
“It was amazing. I’ve had the opportunity to see some of the kids who had some trouble last year do some great things,” Drew said. “I’ve also had more kids coming up to me, shaking my hand and introducing themselves.”
Bockart credits this behavior to the students feeling more comfortable.
“If they need something, they know they have a place they can come for more than just academic help,” Bockart stated. “It’s my role just to give the kids an opportunity to talk and share, then I provide support and a safe place for them to come if they need something outside of their normal academic needs. This is more of a social and emotional needs type of thing.”
FJH sixth graders Grace Egert and Noah Lenderman confirmed Bockart’s statement.
“I’ve been able to get some things off my chest, and getting to actually say things out loud has been good. The people in my class are comforting and not judgmental,” Egert said. “It’s a different way to talk to other people and have a conversation about what you’re going through.”
Lenderman said he enjoys the opportunity to meet new people.
“With Mustang Impact, I have a whole bunch of people I can connect with and talk with. I have a whole classroom of friends every Tuesday and Thursday,” Lenderman said. “It’s very fun.”
Building these relationships is vital to the students’ mental well-being along with their academic success, according to Bockart.
“How to build relationships is the most important thing for a child to learn. It’s the foundation for all success in school,” Bockart said. “If the students don’t feel safe, comfortable, loved and nurtured, then they cannot learn.”
But it is not only the children who are learning new things from Mustang Impact; the adults are learning too.
“One of the people who has to change the most is me,” Drew said. “I never got a trophy for participation, I never got a pat on the back for doing the right thing; that was always just an expectation, so this is a little bit different for me too.”
Regardless of how difficult change might appear at a distance, Egert believes this change is one worth working toward.
“I think this is very beneficial for all of the students who are going through hard things. Maybe it’s just a small little thing to you, but it means the world to them,” Egert said. “I think it’s really going to help us this school year and give us more to look forward to. I know when I go to the program in the morning, my day becomes happier and I enjoy my day more.”
Seeing as the Mustang Impact program is relatively new, Drew recognized there is still work to be done.
“The bottom line is this is a process,” Drew stated. “When you implement something, it’s not going to be perfect right off the bat. We’re going to continue to refine this as we see it.”
Acknowledging creating a culture of kindness is a process, Bockart said she only has one end goal for the Mustang Impact program.
“My hope would be all kids feel valued and worthy regardless of what they bring to the table,” Bockart said. “I want them to realize not all successes can be measured by a score or a grade.”