Last fall students at Raymond J. Fisher Middle School took a Project Cornerstone survey meant to measure the levels of 41 developmental assets—or skills, values and relationships—that young people need to grow up to be caring and responsible.
According to Linda Silvius, director of the Santa Clara County-based Project Cornerstone’s educational partnerships, assets include integrity, honesty, strong family boundaries and positive cultural identity.
Assets are essential building blocks that every healthy child needs, Silvius says.
The dramatic increase in the number of Fisher students who reported adult role models, positive peer influence, caring school climate and a sense that community values youth since they were last surveyed in 2006 was the most positive for any middle school in Santa Clara County, according to Silvius.
In addition, Fisher's results were recognized at the national level by the Search Institute, a respected Minneapolis research organization that has conducted research on more than 3 million youth since the 1950s.
Eighty-six percent of sixth-graders scored within the "thriving/optimal" range, meaning they are more likely to choose healthy activities, succeed in school and avoid risk behaviors.
Silvius said the survey results showed a 35 percent increase among seventh- and eighth-graders in assets such as planning ahead and making choices, demonstrating empathy and relating positively to people with different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds.
Another positive finding is that all 24 of the 24 risk behaviors have decreased among Fisher students since 2006. These include refraining from alcohol and drug use and physical violence, depression and suicide attempts.
Students, parents, teachers and administrators celebrated the unprecedented results May 10 at a reception at Fisher.
"There's so much more to these numbers than points and percentages," says Fisher Home & School Club president LezLi Logan. "Researchers tell us that it works like a Richter scale—each point of change in survey response represents a larger magnitude effect on all of our children. We are shaking things up in a really good way."
Silvius credited Principal Lisa Fraser for creating a "Cornerstone epidemic."
Among the programs Fraser and her team have fostered in the past few years are Student Appreciation Day, Cornerstone Book Club, Expect Respect bully prevention and Builder's Club service learning, Silvius said.
Perhaps most innovative is Fisher's "No-Dot Kid," in which teachers and administrators strive to make a personal connection with each student by preparing lists of their students' names at the beginning of the school year, then affixing dots representing the level of contact they have with them. If the adults see that students have no dots by their names, efforts to connect are stepped up.
In addition to Fisher parents, teachers and administrators, Fraser said Los Gatos elementary schools and community leaders including the the and local businesses have played a pivotal role in building positive values in children.
While the results are great, there's still work to be done, said Michelle Racimo, parent coordinator of Fisher's Project Cornerstone efforts. "This isn't a time to become complacent. It's crucial to stay connected to our kids, especially in middle school. Don't walk away. Engage, engage, engage!"
To that end, Fraser used May 10's celebration to announce the launch of yet another Cornerstone endeavor, Club 41, a student club whose purpose is to help students celebrate and understand cultural identities.