Students return to Hayden on 1st day looking to improve student voice, school culture

Students returned to the Hayden Valley Schools on Monday for the actual first day of school in the building the district opened last year. (Photo by Dylan Anderson)

HAYDEN — As students in Hayden started school Monday, there is a concerted effort from both school and student leaders to reset the culture and increase student voice after a year where staff often were tasked with policing students about COVID-19 protocols.

Students were in school in-person for most of last school year, and Superintendent Christy Sinner said she hopes the district can use this first week, which features several student-organized and student-led events, to help improve school culture.

“Going through the pandemic and them having to be stifled by so many things, controls, masks — we felt like police a lot of times,” Sinner said. “Student voice is a huge thing that we want to get going this year.”

That started right away Monday on the first day of the 2021-22 school year with the student council leading a high school student assembly, with other gatherings for younger students planned for later in the day. The last 30 minutes of each day this week has been reserved for student-planned activities to help grow connection between students and staff.

High school students at the Hayden Valley Schools grab their schedules for the first day of the 2021-22 school year on Monday, Aug. 23. (Photo by Dylan Anderson)

At each of the various assemblies Monday, student council introduced new staff in the building, sharing where they came from and how much they were willing to be embarrassed by students.

“We had some problems last year with out teacher relations,” said Piper Jo Jones, a senior student who serves as secretary and treasurer for student council. “A mask became a barrier to a lot of kids. … A lot of kids weren’t able to communicate and weren’t able to connect with their teachers and create actual meaningful relationships.”

Jones led students in learning the Hayden School song before launching a cheering competition meant to increase the pep of students on the first day.

“We’re trying to create healthy friendships from teachers to students, teachers to staff, students to staff, just to make it a better environment overall — try to change the pace of how Hayden has been going and try to change us as a school and a community,” Jones said.

Senior Piper Jo Jones, with microphone, leads her classmates in singing the Hayden Valley Schools’ song at a first-day-of-school assembly Monday, Aug. 23. (Photo by Dylan Anderson)

During the assembly, Principal Steve McDonald told students about a bracelet he got when he started working at Hayden that he wears every day, which says “Embrace Change.”

“We have a lot of changes this year, changes for the good,” McDonald told students. “We have a lot of opportunities for student voice to be heard, discussions to be had and things to be moved forward in a positive direction.”

District leaders hope these changes will help improve the school’s culture and earn it a “District of Distinction” certification from the Colorado Department of Education.

“(Students and staff) have been through a lot, and just to make sure they are feeling healthy and happy all the way around is going to be a big push,” Sinner said, adding that staff shortages will add to the work. “Without our counselor and social worker, we have a lot of extra work to do.”

Students gather around the front doors of the Hayden Valley Schools before they opened Monday on the first day of school. (photo by Dylan Anderson)

Part of earning this distinction is showing how students have grown academically and that the school is properly preparing them for their next step, whether that is college, a technical program or some other path.

McDonald said he would be meeting with various groups of students throughout the week to lay out his expectations. On day one, he emphasized maximizing students’ time in the classroom because COVID-19 could continue to affect instruction this year, as well.

“Changes in terms of expectations and policy, that kind of thing,” McDonald said. “Making sure that we maintain a high level of rigor while keeping kids engaged in class.”

McDonald serves as the district’s only principal, which is a change from last year when there was a different principal for both the secondary and elementary schools. This fall’s return to normalcy, at least for now, and having clear expectations for students are important, McDonald said.

“Last year, for all schools across the state, it was a weird pandemic year,” McDonald said.

Students converse while parents are dropping off their children on the first day of school in the Hayden Valley School District. (Photo by Dylan Anderson)

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.