A few years ago, my school community was feeling the opposite of friendly. Youth Leadership Through Adeventure (YLTA) was still new in my school: my sophomore year was the first year that it began making real changes. At that year’s high school conference, our school group planned a School Climate Project. This consisted of making a mini-conference at the school, with our students divided into groups and each group led by a trained student facilitator. Classes wouldn’t happen all day so that groups could meet, and the mini-conference would end in the gym with a big activity.

The first year of the project, a lot of students tried skipping school, complaining that the school climate project was “lame.” Participation was very low. I was my group’s facilitator, and in the beginning it was difficult getting any students to talk, but by the end, the whole group had bonded. I was pleasantly surprised when the students I’d thought would be stubborn proved to have the most to share. We were able to break apart the “social boundaries” and cliques. Even if it was only for an hour, we had begun to change our attitudes and improve student relationships.

During the school-wide activity in the gym, everyone was smiling and excited. There was more energy in the air than during homecoming, with teachers smiling and competing with students. This past year, my junior year, even more people wanted to be involved, not only in YLTA but in improving the school climate as well. More people became friendly in the halls, more people attended hockey and basketball games, and the overall school spirit and climate changed. Now, in my senior year, we have started planning the School Climate Project for this school year. I’m excited to see how this positivity grows in our community.

—Berlin High School