The start to the 2021-22 school year was like no other at Thompson Intermediate School in Houston, Texas. Coming off of the previous year of mostly virtual learning, the prospect of bringing students back to full-time, in-person school brought up important questions about student well-being.
How would students feel about being at school? How would students handle relationships with their peers, and with their teachers? How were students processing the daily uncertainties of our world?
To figure out what her students were really thinking and feeling, Thompson’s principal Tanis Griffin worked with her staff to survey their student body of middle schoolers. Students anonymously answered questions about their level of happiness and stress, and how they relate to their teachers, peers, and family.
The responses they received highlighted the need to focus on students’ social and emotional health. As eighth-grade student Da’Marcus H. shared, “I’m pretty nervous expressing myself in real life. I really don’t tell people how I feel.”
Griffin opted to introduce Along to her staff as a way to prioritize student health.
“I made it a priority to put relationships first,” Griffin said. “My vision was that we’ve got to embed time in our school day to allow for social-emotional learning and for relationship-building. The first step was to talk to my staff. We were all in agreement that we need to really put some time and effort into building relationships with our students.”
Learn more about how student relationships are staying front and center at Thompson in this video about their use of Along, an offering of Gradient Learning:
In August 2021, Griffin’s team met for their back-to-school professional development with a focus on using Along in all of their homeroom classrooms.
“I modeled Along with my leadership team and we practiced using it with the staff,” Griffin said. “We talked about meeting the kids where they are.”
Kelli Moneyhun, Thompson’s SEL coach, said that after reviewing their survey results together, the school staff understood the value and impact that Along could bring to their classrooms.
“The staff could use Along and its reflection questions to dive deeper into some of these issues and really communicate with students,” Moneyhun said. “It’s super important to know each student because each student comes from a different background, has different learning needs, and has different social-emotional needs. With Along, we’d be able to learn how to teach them better and build stronger relationships with them.”
Since the start of the school year, Thompson teachers have been asking their students a reflection question in Along once a week. As a result of these weekly check-ins, students and teachers throughout the school say the school culture has been noticeably more positive.
Iylena L., an eighth grader at Thompson, said knowing that a teacher is reading or listening to a response in Along provides a feeling of comfort.
“I feel like she knows me more than other teachers do,” Alena said about her homeroom teacher. “We can have a deeper connection that is kind of like a friend.”
Da’Marcus H. added that Along’s options for responding digitally has helped him to open up.
“I feel more comfortable using text or video than in real life,” he said. “Coming to school, it feels like I have way more people to talk to.”
Students understand that their responses in Along are only viewed by their teacher, which helps eliminate concerns over peer pressure.
“It’s made my students feel closer to me,” said Kayla Matlock, an English teacher at Thompson. “If we didn’t have Along, they would not have felt as comfortable telling me if stuff is good, bad, or wrong. They feel they can trust me.”
Robert Boyes, a history teacher and coach at Thompson, added that, “once they realize that it’s a relationship between you and them, they’ll tell you more things and you can actually get to the heart of the matter if a child is struggling. The bond needs to be there, and that’s what Along provides.”
Looking ahead, Thompson’s success may influence other schools within the Pasadena Independent School District (PISD) to consider using Along. Alyta Harrell, PISD’s associate superintendent for campus development, explained that while there’s a system for building rigor in classrooms, a focus on building relationships is needed.
“Along is a tool to get this started,” Harrell said. “In order for deep learning to occur, there has to be relationships with students. When teachers know what makes their students tick and what they are passionate about, they can better help them and make their students feel connected to the classroom.
“Along is a tool that starts conversations and relationship building in a systematic way.”