High schoolers step up to build supportive environment for peers

A group of Wrangell High School students saw a problem and decided to do something about it.

Those students wanted to make the school warmer and more inviting. They created BASE - Building A Supportive Environment - a program aimed at inclusivity and helping each other. It's grown from decorating the halls to making sure other students get needed food, recognizing staff, and even securing money to make microloans on a global scale.

The year before COVID-19 hit, several students attempted or considered suicide, and peer counseling was put in place by school administrators. Students at the time did not like the training for the peer counseling.

"The kids walked out and said, 'We don't want anything to do with this. We think we have a better idea,'" said Assistant Principal Bob Davis. "They kind of went rogue on us. Their approach is they want to tackle it globally."

When the program began in 2019, students involved in BASE started decorating the halls with paintings, photo prints and other art to brighten up the school. Plants were added shortly after that. Then they turned to feeding their fellow students.

Davis said the kids worked with staff to learn how to write grants and find other ways to secure funds to keep the program afloat. That's helped fund the BASE breakfast store, a part of the program that has carried over into this year.

"We sell food in the morning because there's a good amount of kids who come to school hungry," said junior Kiara Harrison.

"Prior to that, there was no school breakfast program," said counselor Addy Esco, who oversees the projects BASE students are working on. Students raised $2,000 in grants, $1,500 of which was used for the free or reduced-cost lunch program. The other $500 was divided into $5 punch cards that teachers can give out as rewards to students who go above and beyond.

"We're trying to encourage pro-social behavior. We're trying to get students to look out for each other and take care of one another," Esco said. "(Teachers) can use those punch cards as an incentive."

Brodie Gardner, another junior in BASE, said they are continuing the teacher appreciation program, where students can fill out a form lauding a specific teacher. Whichever teacher is picked will have something special done for them. One teacher is honored each month of the school year.

"We were thinking of sending out a form (to the teachers) and seeing what kind of snacks they like or what they need in their classroom," Gardner said. "Last year we did little cute potted plants for them to put in their classrooms."

In addition to the goodies, teachers being honored will receive a card that includes students' comments about what makes them special and why they were selected, Esco said.

BASE is also expanding its reach to help others around the world with Kiva microloans, which can range anywhere from $25 to $15,000.

"Basically, we send a loan to someone, in Africa or somewhere like that, who is in need of money for anything," said freshman Addie Andrews. "It could be for a store they're running or education, health, etc. We're going to send a loan of $500 to somebody, then over time we'd get that money back."

Any funds that are raised through the program go directly back into BASE to benefit students and staff.

This year's group is comprised of 12 students from various grades who work together. No matter what grade a member is in, if that person has an idea for a project and the group votes to do it, the creator will take ownership and lead the project.

Junior Will Ashton wasn't a part of the group last year, but seeing the changes that were happening around the school got him involved this year. "I wanted to help," he said.

Not only does being involved in BASE seem to change the mindset of those in the group, it seems to be influencing the rest of the school, Davis said.

Senior pranks are always dreaded near the end of the school year, Davis said. However, last year's "prank" had an unexpected twist.

"The 'prank' that the seniors decided to pull was to do a barbecue for the entire high school," he said. "They set it up, made an announcement out of the blue, interrupting class, and offered the barbecue. That wasn't BASE doing that, but I think that attitude of helping, of looking out for others, they took that idea and ran with it."

Those changes aren't being lost on the students in BASE.

"Being a part of the program has helped me become more involved in school and more invested, so I want to do what I can to help the school. That, in turn, makes me be a better student," Harrison said

"The very thing of service is that it generally uplifts you," Ashton added.


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