March 10, 2011 at 9:01 a.m.

Who would have thought giving a high five would create a safe and enjoyable school?

Who would have thought giving a high five would create a safe and enjoyable school?
Who would have thought giving a high five would create a safe and enjoyable school?

If there was ever an age when a student gets himself or herself to the proverbial fork in the road, it would have to be middle school. Administrators at Chisago Lakes Middle School could see this in their students eyes and actions. Some students were hitting that fork and taking the wrong turn.

Six years ago, Brenda Schell and Jim Gillach decided the school needed more structure, much like a family, where kids, all kids, can build a community that includes values and most importantly accountability. So after researching other schools and businesses that have implemented such programs, it was decided that "High Five" would become just that. A structure of rules, rewards, values and support that each and every student could adhere to.

What is "High Five"? "High Five is about respect, responsibility, commitment, integrity and compassion," Middle Dean of Students Jim Gillach says. It was created and thus became part of the district initiative that is a national program called PBIS (positive behavior intervention and support), a decision making framework for achieving positive behavioral outcomes.

It is nearly impossible to miss the students high fiving staff members in the halls. By high fiving staff members, it keeps the program fresh in their minds.

Kids at the Middle School begin to learn about High Five and the values associated with the program from day one. In their core connect classes, they meet and are asked to write an example of compassion and how it affects them outside of the school. Students are asked to write what a lack of compassion looks like as well.

Each of the 900 students at the Middle School is asked to clean the lunch room four days out of the school year. This allows them to learn a couple things. First, it teaches them to be less messy, because they now know what it takes to clean up afterwards. Secondly, it teaches them responsibility and pride, knowing their lunch room is clean as a direct result of their hard work.

"High Five rewards kids when they follow the rules," Gillach says. Another example of how students are rewarded is the "Wall of Fame", which displays photos of students of the month all down a hallway.

A "Good Cat" is a term used for a student caught in the act of doing something good. A note would then be issued to that student by a staff member. A student can be recognized for something as simple as picking up a dropped book or turning in lost money. Gillach says over $100 has been turned in this year already. The student can also be recognized for catching an action before it happens, such as bullying.

So what happens when a student doesn't abide by the "High Five" motto? A staff member will sit down with that student and ask them what part of the High Five was ignored. How can that student change his or her reaction to the exact same situation in the future. What is that student going to do to make up for the wrong decision made? The staff member will actively work with that student to ensure they are on the right path.

What happens when a student does something right? As odd as it may sound, Gillach makes a phone call to that student's parents informing them their child has chosen to make the right decision. "Normally when a parent receives a call from an office staff member, they immediately go into "What did my kid do now?" mode Gillach says. "Imagine their surprise when I tell them I am calling to compliment their student?" "It's my favorite call to make," Gillach says.

Every quarter of the school year, the students are asked to put their goals in writing. They begin with the sentence I want to (blank) this quarter. If is something like get B's this quarter, the student is asked what it's going to take to get there. How can they incorporate getting better grades with the High Five program? Showing compassion to other students could translate to other students potentially helping with study questions.

"You want to put together something that every student has a chance to better their community" Gillach says. "By bettering their school community, we in turn make this a safer, more enjoyable school."

The High Five program has since been adopted in various forms by every school in the Chisago Lakes District. The High School uses "Go Wild" which stands for Wisdom, Integrity, Leadership and Dedication. Lakeside has Lakeside Pride where pride stands for Positive attitude, Respect, Integrity, Discipline and Excellence, while Taylors Falls Elementary has River Rules where river stands for Respect, Integrity, Value, Excellence and Responsibility. The Primary school uses Respectful, Responsible Cooperative and Safe.

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