On this episode we learn from some of the team at Clear Brook High School. Dr. Michele Staley has been the principal at Clear Brook High School for the past 11 years. She has been in public education for 26 years, 21 of which have been as an administrator. Bridget Christmas is an Assistant Principal at Brook who currently oversees the BrookBound Program. She spent her career in education as a special education teacher where she taught SEL to students with disabilities and served as a district behavior specialist for 2 years before coming to Clear Brook. And Lauren Jehli is an award-winning educator and mental health professional with seven years of elementary and secondary experience. She currently serves as a Student Support Counselor at Clear Brook High School where she believes in changing the world through education.
We talk about Brook Bound, the proactive program that helps high school students give back to the kids in their school district and gets them excited about coming to Clear Brook High School. They also share about the importance of having a wholistic approach when it comes to building community and the impact that it has had.
“...it's really just about our kids giving to the younger kids. But showing the good character, being a role model and just getting them excited about coming to Clear Brook and creating that community just means so much. And everybody loves it, the teachers, the kids, the principals, the parents. It's just the most amazing thing we've done.”
— Dr. Michelle Staley
- John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today we're talking with the team from Clear Brook High School.
- John: Dr. Michelle Staley has been the principal at Clear Brook High School for the past 11 years. She has been in public education for 26 years, 21 of which have been as an administrator. Bridget Christmas is an assistant principal at Brook who currently oversees the Brook Bound program. She spent her career in education as a special education teacher where she taught socio-emotional learning to students with disabilities and served as a district behavior specialist for two years before coming to Clear Brook High School. Lauren Jehli is an award-winning educator and mental health professional with seven years of elementary and secondary experience. She currently serves as a student support counselor at Clear Brook High School where she believes in changing the world through education.
- John: Are you ready? Let's get character-strong with the team from Clear Brook High School.
- John: All right. Super excited today to have the team at Clear Brook High with us today. We have Dr. Michelle Staley, principal; Ms. Bridget Christmas who heads up the program that we're going to be talking about today and assistant principal; and Ms. Lauren Jehli, the student support counselor. Super excited to have you with us today.
- Dr. Staley: We're thrilled to be here, John. Thank you.
- John: Well we're here today on our CharacterStrong p odcast talking really about multiple things. But one is that you are recognized as one of our eight CharacterStrong Scholarship winners for your idea to put character into action in your school and/or district. And what I loved about this is we have a lot of relationships across the country, but it was completely anonymous. The team that put it together, all we had was the idea in front of us. And we had a big team that was voting on the different ideas. And here we are, yours was selected. And so to dig right into it, we really believe in cut the fluff, get right to the stuff, tell me about your idea Brook Bound.
- Bridget: So Brook Bound is a program where our high school students travel to our feeder elementary and intermediate schools. And it's promoting school spirit. It's valuing service. And it's really the manifestation of our community because Clear Brook has unique zoning where we're kind of spread out across a couple of different cities. And so we're having to kind of create our own community and really promote what Clear Brook's about. And showcasing our students off at the different schools really does that.
- John: Well, I love that too because one of the things immediately that I'm hearing is you have a unique scenario that could be very difficult, right? And I hear that a lot of times. And having been in a district both at the high school level and then at the district level, and sometimes that zoning piece can create things where it's like, "Okay. We might be dealing with some difficulties here." And what you're doing is something that is incredibly proactive. And I love the relational focus, the role model focus that you are putting on this. And so tell me then about some of the different things that you're having the high school students do as a part of this project.
- Dr. Staley: So, sure. So we started with one elementary, partnering with one elementary. And then that grew to two in the first year. And now we're dealing with the online feeder schools.
- Dr. Staley: So the activities can vary. It started very innocently of the kids that have dual credit on, so they don't have class first and second period on Fridays. The football team kids would meet at the elementaries and just open doors for students. And they'd be in their uniform, and the little kids would just love it. And so now, everybody in the district does that.
- Dr. Staley: The cross country team, they had a little track club at a different elementary. And so they would just go once or twice a week and run with those students. So many elementaries do science nights and math nights. And a lot of our kids will go and volunteer. We had AP Biology do a whole science day where we actually planned the lessons for the teachers K through fifth grade. And they did the science activities with them.
- Dr. Staley: So it's really just about our kids giving to the younger kids. But showing the good character, being a role model and just getting them excited about coming to Clear Brook and creating that community just means so much. And everybody loves it, the teachers, the kids, the principals, the parents. It's just the most amazing thing we've done.
- John: That's awesome. And yeah, I love it. And I always like to zero in on this when this type of thing is shared. It's an incredibly simple idea, but not easy, or everybody would do it, right? You hear it, and you're like, "Wow," sometimes, "Why didn't I think of that?" Or two, it's not that we don't want to do it, it's how do we do it?
- John: So maybe even go there a little bit. How did you organize this? And maybe it's, "Well, we started small," right? "We got the football team, and they started greeting at the door." And I love that. And now, it's happening everywhere. And sometimes it might be starting with one idea and then letting it grow. But for those that are thinking like this seems big, and it is big in terms of its impact, but in some ways, how did you organize this? How do you put it together?
- Dr. Staley: So it actually started with two parents who wanted to help get kids excited about coming to Brook because we wanted to bring that one horse town. We're in Texas. So Texas football, Friday night, the whole town closes. Everybody goes to the game, right? So we wanted to create-
- John: It's a big thing in Texas? It's a big thing?
- Dr. Staley: Yeah. Have you ever heard this brand new thing, football? Nobody's really heard of it.
- John: Yeah.
- Dr. Staley: But we wanted to create that small town feel when we are within 10 minutes of five other high schools with over 2,000-3,000 kids in them.
- John: Wow.
“It is so important because it takes hitting it from all angles. It takes everyone putting their own spin on building relationships. And we really consider Brook Bound to be the heart and the hands of our community. And so we open it up. And we tell all of... We ask all of our clubs to participate in some way. But we really say, "How do you want to reach out to your community? How do you want to show that you care, and be role models, and just reach into those elementary schools and those intermediate schools?" And they come up with fabulous ideas all on their own.”
— Lauren Jehli
- Dr. Staley: So that was really the impetus for beginning the program. And we did really start small. We did just a little t-shirt with North Pointe Elementary. We did just little few activities. And then we had another elementary that wanted to get involved. And it was all about just me and the principal meet two parents getting together and our communications office at the district helping. And then it grew so much that the whole district adopted the pre K-12 program. And now everybody... We have 44 campuses, and it's really tying the whole district together.
- John: Wow. It's such a beautiful thing. And I love that two parents who saw something that they wanted to make happen. The partnership that happens when we bring all stakeholders together and to hear how that has grown is just incredible. Love that. And love the support, that work that you're doing.
- John: So how about this? It's obvious then not only here and here, but also in your application, and then what we also know of just the great work that's happening in Clear Creek ISD that you focus on that holistic approach that this can't be just about one program here or there, right? Why do you believe that that's so important? Because that's a big belief that we have at CharacterStrong is this needs to be a holistic approach. We need to hit it from all angles, that it can't just be we do this curriculum, or we had this assembly, or we're going to just do it through the football team. No, it needs to be that holistic approach including all areas. Why do you believe that's so important?
- Lauren: It is so important because it takes hitting it from all angles. It takes everyone putting their own spin on building relationships. And we really consider Brook Bound to be the heart and the hands of our community. And so we open it up. And we tell all of... We ask all of our clubs to participate in some way. But we really say, "How do you want to reach out to your community? How do you want to show that you care, and be role models, and just reach into those elementary schools and those intermediate schools?" And they come up with fabulous ideas all on their own.
- Lauren: And so that's one of the most fun parts of this program is that you find that people are creative. They get to help others in ways that they're comfortable with. As Dr. Staley said earlier, both students, staff, high school students, all the way down to elementary students get so much benefit. They love it. They love the interactions because we are addressing the whole child and the whole person regardless of what role they're playing. It's just a really positive thing for everyone.
- John: I love it. Well, you've been doing this for... This is not a new thing. This is something that you're continuing to do. As I always say, how do we make it fresh? How do we keep it new, right? That's always the challenge as you're growing something that has had such great impact. And so maybe tell me a little bit about what has the impact been so far? Even going there, I know you've talked about it a little bit here. And then also what do you hope that impact to continue to be moving forward?
- Dr. Staley: So we are, gosh, I want to say in our ninth or 10th year. So it has been a while. And you have to stay tenacious. You have to have sticktoitiveness, but really turning it over to the kids. And one of the things that actually CharacterStrong has helped us with focusing on this character program is getting more people involved. So it used to be something that I think that I really held in the office and as an office responsibility. Now, I would want other people to do things. But now, we're kind of turning it over to the kids and to the teachers. And it's evolving into instead of something... Oh, so our motto is who we are, who we are becoming. And I think this program has moved from who we are to who we are becoming. It's becoming culture now. And it's not something we do. It's something who we are.
- Dr. Staley: And so the impact is that the kids are realizing how important it is to reach out and do things. And I think that they enjoy having that role model leadership with the other kids and that they feel good about what they're doing. And so they are the ones coming up with the ideas now instead of us.
- John: I love it. When there's so much good, I mean just in the way that you're articulate it, sometimes when you just start with a smaller group and intentionally leverage that influence, set the example, right, if we're going to change the norm or if we're going to take something on that isn't easy, you do some of that heavy lifting early that's not easy. I love that you said you have to be tenacious because that is so true. If you don't have champions of that work, it's so easy to have... I'm trying to think up the phrasing. But it's like when your implementation go... Implementation drift where it can so easily start to fade away if you don't have people that are like, "No, this is who we're becoming." And now you're getting to that, "This is who we are," that habit that is being developed. And I love that piece that I just want to zero in as we kind of close out today that people support what they help to create.
- John: And when you have now students taking ownership of that, and I just think of those younger students, when you think about that Brook Bound focus who because they're seeing that example from your students at Clear Brook High, "Man, when I get to Clear Brook High," even if they're not specifically thinking this yet, right? But that subconsciously, "When I get there, that's the way that we are. That's the way that we do things around here. And so I'm far more likely to continue to do that to the elementary students when I'm then that age."
- John: What a great example for us all. We're excited to hear more about it as it continues to go this year. And I know we'll be back with you to kind of hear about those results. We want to have another conversation so people can check in on you. But we wish you the very best this year as you continue to put a focus on the whole child.
- Dr. Staley: Thank you so much.
- Bridget: Thank you.
- Dr. Staley: And thank you for the scholarship and for choosing us to be a winner.
- John: Yay.
- Dr. Staley: We love it.
- John: Congrats. Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong and how we're supporting schools, visit characterstrong.com. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.
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The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.