Battle Ground educators and administrators are breathing a sigh of relief as the schools replacement levy is expected to pass.
Support for the levy has remained strong, with 53.76 percent of voters saying “yes” as of Thursday afternoon.
The replacement levy will not only save jobs from being cut and signal the preservation of sports programs, but it will continue progress in implementing districtwide support programs in social-emotional learning. Coming off the worst period of the COVID-19 pandemic, district officials say the demand for these counseling and mental health services has never been higher.
“Loneliness, isolation and feelings of despondency are the things that counselors are hearing more and more from students,” said Shelley Whitten, Battle Ground Public Schools’ deputy superintendent. “Our referrals for suicide ideation are up. In comparison to last year’s referrals, there are already more of them by this point in the year.”
Whitten said students’ needs now — particularly since the onset of the pandemic — are entirely different than ever before. The district has been in the process of designating locations in all schools where students, rather than being disciplined for behavioral issues, have a place they can speak with counselors before returning to class. Had the levy failed, the plans to include these rooms in elementary schools would’ve likely been scrapped. The district would have also lost positions in drug intervention, which help in counseling students exposed to substance abuse.
“It is truly hard to understand how we could run the school district with many of the unfunded mandates that have been implemented in the last 15 years,” Whitten said. “When we talked about some of the things we could lose, it felt to me like we were risking the lives of children. It’s not just about curriculum.”
Since a string of youth suicides between 2009 and 2011 in Battle Ground, implementing these programs in social-emotional learning and counseling has remained a major priority. The levy funds at least 16 psychologist positions across the district; the state funds just one, according to the school district.
“The limited social interaction of the last 18 months has impacted our students in ways we didn’t predict,” said Mike Michaud, the district’s director of elementary education. “In younger students, they’ve missed developmental milestones that come as a result of interacting with peers. The resources we have in place we hope can help patch that up.”
The reintroduction of middle schools sports, Michaud said, is another resource provided by the levy that can help make up for those gaps in social interaction created by the pandemic. According to district spokeswoman Rita Sanders, it’s been 40 years since middle school sports took place in Battle Ground.
At Chief Umtuch Middle School, school spirit has never been greater. As students return to regular, in-person learning, the prospect of sports and continued extracurricular activities has created a buzz of excitement that administrators say they haven’t seen since long before the pandemic.
“Students are starved for more community,” said Austin Brothers, assistant principal at Chief Umtuch. Brothers formerly served as an athletic director in the Kittitas School District. “With sports, students will be able to come together and meet kids at other schools.”
Brothers described sports as an extension of the classroom and said it serves as somewhat of a pipeline between middle and high schools.
Battle Ground Public Schools has already laid the framework for these sports programs, which will begin with basketball in January. There will be five seasons of sports in a row up until Memorial Day, featuring soccer and cross country for both boys and girls.
“Knowing this might happen, the positivity here at Chief is amazing,” Brothers said. “Almost like a feeling of normalcy here.”