XSEL Labs - A 7 Mindsets SolutionThe Missisquoi Valley School District in Swanton, Vermont, recently shared the results of the district’s middle school and high school climate survey produced by xSEL Labs, a 7 Mindsets solution. The results of the survey, conducted in the fall, revealed that students feel safer and more encouraged to learn in 2023 than they did in 2022. The district credits a number of factors for the positive results, including consistency and familiarity in administrative staff, district-wide focus on social and emotional learning, and xSEL labs’ school climate survey, which the district used in 2022 and 2023.

The full article, originally published December 5, 2023, in the Saint Albans Messenger, is available below.

Missisquoi Valley Union Survey Reveals How Safe Students Feel at School

By Bridget Higdon|Saint Albans Messenger

SWANTON — A survey conducted this fall at Missisquoi Valley Union reveals how middle and high school students feel about their school’s climate.

Across the board, students feel safer and more encouraged to learn in 2023 than they did last year.

For example, in 2022, 18% of high school students surveyed felt safe at school, while in 2023, 49% feel safe.

Similarly, 30% of middle schoolers surveyed in 2022 said their teachers encourage them, but that percentage increased to 79% in 2023.

Students were asked to respond to various questions on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most positive response. The data provided by MVU to the Messenger only includes two types of student responses. The three other options were not provided, but MVU director of teaching and learning Jennifer DeSorghers said as of Nov. 9 the school had not yet received those missing data points.

DeSorghers and Steve Messier, director of student affairs, attribute the positive change to Missisquoi Valley School District’s increased focus on social-emotional learning. Back in 2020, the district launched an SEL competencies guide for grades K-12.

“SEL skills are really life skills,” Messier said. “Whether it’s effective communication or problem solving or frustration tolerance, these are all things they are not only going to use during the school day, but at home with family members and out in the community and someday in the workforce.”

The district’s guide lays out social-emotional skills each grade level should have command of and ways for teachers to weave those lessons into curriculums, no matter the subject. That may look like a closing routine or short breaks for physical movement, among other strategies.

“We knew we weren’t going to see the fruits of the labor immediately, but I think we’re now starting to see some of that work take hold,” Messier said.

DeSorghers also mentioned the physical upgrades MVSD has made to the school building over the last few years may help students feel more safe.

Staff has also been consistent and familiar. For example, in 2022, longtime MVU middle school principal Dan Palmer became the high school principal. Christie Martin, former Sheldon Elementary principal, moved into the middle school position simultaneously.

“We’re fortunate to have a pretty stable team here at MVU,” DeSorghers said. “That helped us to build and gain momentum on a lot of pieces.”

This fall was the second year in a row MVU utilized the climate survey produced by xSEL Labs, which produces assessments to track students’ social-emotional development. Other surveys have been conducted over the years, but not on a consistent basis, DeSorghers said.

MVU now hopes to make this an annual exercise.

More students participated in the climate survey this time around: 642 total students in 2023 compared to 415 in 2022. MVU’s student population totals about 725.

DeSorghers said the increase in participation came from having students complete the survey during social studies class rather than during homeroom.

“Not only are we pleased with the more positive data, but also it’s a better representation of our student body,” she said.

The question that saw the least change in student response was “Kids care about me.” In 2022, 12% of students said that statement was “very true” while 28% said they feel that way “a lot” in 2023.

MVU staff plan to take a hard look at the numbers and brainstorm potential solutions for helping students feel more comfortable with their own peers.

Already, MVU used the survey results during an in-service day in early November to kick-start conversations about how to increase feelings of safety and belonging in the school. DeSorghers would also like to present the data back to students to get their ideas and feedback.

“How can we all work together to make this an even more welcoming and inclusive place for students?” she asked.