If you work in a school setting, you know that the expectations are high. As a staff, we’re constantly balancing teaching students the core curriculum and the core skills needed to be a healthy adult. Because we know how important these high school years are, we wanted Ripon to have a safe and inclusive school culture that would foster growth for the long run, well beyond their four-year high school journey.
Several years ago, while attending the California Association of Directors of Activities state convention, I went to a workshop where the CEO of dude. be nice was sharing his story and origin of this amazing company. As I sat there, I listened, cried, and laughed. I knew I wanted this idea of building a brand of inclusivity to be a part of our school culture.
For the past six years, we have done just that.
As a team, we incorporate dude. be nice into our Kindness/Spirit Week. This allows us to intentionally create space to give back and model an inclusive campus for our students. Here’s how we’ve done that:
4 Key Ways to Build an Inclusive School Culture
1. Dude. Be Nice Week: Bring kindness to your spirit week
Using the resources from DBN and our student council’s ideas, we pull off a Dude. Be Nice week.
At the culmination of the week, we surprise and honor a staff member for being our Dude/Dudette. The qualifications to earn this honor…Kindness! Our clubs are involved in the action all week from their nomination of the staff member to taking on a spirit day of giving back. In our finale, each group involved in the week presents our special person with gifts and shower them with love!
2. Tribe Award: An event that celebrates character, connection, and relationships
In April of each year, any staff member can honor a student on our campus for being kind, compassionate, helpful, and an amazing human being. This event is not based on grades, how many AP courses are taken if one is an athlete, or how much community service they may complete— it is solely based on being an incredible person.
Teachers can give this award to a student based on what they have observed. Maybe it was something monumental such as a student turning their life around or owning who they are in a new way, or maybe it was something simple, such as a student who made the effort to smile or say hello each day. The relationship between a student and a staff member can be a strong bond and this award honors the connection made within a school year.
This honor can be given to any student at any grade level at RHS. When this student is a senior, they can wear the medallion given to them at their graduation ceremony.
Ripon’s Board of Trustees has not approved many items to be worn in the ceremony with the goal that students are a united class one more time before they leave RHS, but their value placed in this honor allows our students to be recognized for their kindness and character.
Check out our promo video here.
3. College Reveal: Celebrate every student’s post-secondary plans
Each year schools around the nation celebrate student-athletes for signing to a specific college they will play for after high school. While this is an amazing feat to accomplish, there are far more students who will be attending post-secondary education because they value education and training for their future career. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to have a signing for our college-bound students?
Ripon High School created College Reveal where students “sign” to their committed college. Each year we have between 40-50% of our senior class participate in the event. Every student qualifies to participate if they are attending a State, UC, Private, Ivy League, Technical School, JC, or the military.
We honor our students by having an event where they walk a runway, are announced as a future “college” of choice, and sign a large vinyl poster that hangs at our school for future graduates to see and strive towards. We have a professional DJ and photographer at the event to document for each family—at no cost.
Our administrators MC the night and you can hear cheers all around for the commitment and dedication to the future ahead.
Here’s our promo video for this event!
4. Grateful Graduate: Seniors thank their teachers
The Grateful Graduate is an event where seniors can take the time to thank a teacher that made an impact on their life at any point. It could be someone current in their education or it could be someone from the days of elementary school.
Students submit a letter of gratitude toward a teacher, dress in their cap and gown, and surprise their teacher in the middle of the day by reading them their letter in front of the current class. Words shared by our graduates explain why the teacher is so very important to them and the impact that was made. Equally, the youth that sees this moment may gravitate to participating in this event when they themselves are a senior.
This event teaches our students the power of gratitude and demonstrates the joy felt by both parties that will carry on for a lifetime. Surprise, laughter, tears, and kindness encompass this cherished moment. An even more significant factor is that teachers are going through a lot in our present time. This moment can give a teacher the energy to keep going knowing that they truly made a difference in the lives of their students.
If you’re a teacher or school administrator looking to build a more inclusive culture on your campus—something that lasts longer than a spirit day once a year—here are a few tips.
Get everyone involved in the planning
In any event that is planned on a high school campus, commitment from all participants is the greatest challenge.
It is easy to love an idea, but to develop and execute it with multiple parties involved can be difficult. The key factor to success is communication in the preparation and execution of the event.
Create a brand the students want to rally around
Branding is crucial when creating events. In our development of kindness events, but specifically with our Dude be Nice Week, we created a branded Ripon High School dude. be nice shirt that we order every year.
We wear our shirts all together on the last day of the DBN Week. A fun side note: it is always neat to see the multitude of students wear their shirts on campus all year long! It’s an ongoing reminder of the inclusive community we’re building.
The biggest win I’ve found is the way love and kindness are evidenced everywhere. Whether it’s a simple post-it-note or sidewalk chalk or a basket filled with goodies specific to our Dude/Dudette, it is a time to support and show gratitude. This creates an environment of love on our campus.
Learning to share words of thankfulness, love, support, and gratitude are crucial in character development as each school in this nation prepares our youth for the real world.
But these skills can’t just be taught on a slideshow presentation or from one assembly. Students need to see example of how to live this out, which is why we invest so much time and effort to create these events, year after year.
These events lay the foundation for a campus culture that is inclusive, where people don’t just belong but are celebrated for who they are.
By Jill Mortensen, Activities Director at Ripon High School.