Swan Valley School District Selected as One of Three National Award Recipients

DashBoard, March 18, 2015

Swan Valley School District was named one of three grand prize winners in the 21st annual Magna Awards program sponsored by the National School Boards Association’s American School Board Journal. The awards, supported by Sodexo, recognize school districts and their leaders taking bold and innovative steps to improve the lives of their students and their communities. An independent panel of school board members, administrators and other educators selected the winners from nearly 250 submissions.

SVSD’s program started as a literacy month event and morphed into a yearlong project that integrates literacy and learning activities with social and civic responsibilities. “It provides students with the opportunity to make change by their own actions,” said Swan Valley library media specialist Kay Wejrowski.

Read for Peace—Work For Justice was the theme for the 2013-2014 school year. World history students read How Do You Kill 11 Million People? by Andy Andrews, Copper Sun by Sharon Draper and excerpts from Woman, Child for Sale by Gilbert King. They discussed and explored conflicts, genocide and the abuse of power.

Family relations students read a testimonial of spousal abuse in Crazy Love by Leslie Morgan Steiner, and talked to counselors from the Underground Railroad. All ninth-graders read Touching Spirit Bear. They held a video conference with author Ben Mikaelsen, who talked to them about bullying.

Psychology students read Annie’s Ghosts. They learned about mental illness and then talked to author and Washington Post editor Steve Luxenberg.

Industrial arts students worked weekly on building Adirondack chairs. Art department students painted the chairs with peace quotes and designs. The chairs were sold at a charity auction, raising more than $2,400 for a local children’s advocacy and abuse prevention group.

As the students learned more about injustice in their reading and discussions, they had opportunities to help solve some of those problems in their community. They helped pack up over 23,000 meals for Kids Against Hunger and 100 students volunteered for Special Olympics.

“Our district is community-based. Many people went to Swan Valley as students, got their degrees and came back to teach,” Wejrowski said. “Our community is vested in the school and the school is vested in the community. Our lines are blurred and that’s the way we like them.”

The program reaches down to the middle and elementary schools with school officials tailoring the program for their students.

“For anything to be that impactful, it has to be crosscurricular and involve the community,” said Superintendent Matt McRae.

The program is funded with some district money, grants and in-kind donations. The district is deep into this year’s camping theme, working with the Wounded Warrior program.

“Last year, the whole school thrived on it,” said school board member Amy Dwyer. “Kids got to learn about helping other kids. It really opened their minds and their eyes to what’s going on in the community.”

The district was the top program in the under 5,000 students’ category. The other grand prize winners were Albemarle County Public Schools in Charlottesville, Va. (5,000-20,000 students) and ABC Unified School District in Cerritos, Calif. (over 20,000 students). All three districts will receive a $5,000 contribution from Sodexo during the Best Practices for School Leaders Luncheon on March 21 at NSBA’s 75th Annual Conference in Nashville. Additionally, all of the 2015 winners are highlighted in a special section in the April issue of ASBJ.

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