Who’s Your Kabookie? Avoiding the Mid-Year Slowdown
Building culture or community in your school is one of the most important responsibilities for a school leader to undertake each year. As you know, a positive school environment has many benefits for both students and staff. In an Educational Leadership article titled, How Leaders Influence the Culture of Schools, Kent D. Peterson wrote that “strong positive school cultures are places with a shared sense of what is important, a shared ethos of caring and concern, and a shared commitment to helping students learn.”
The culture within the school is important on so many levels. With a strong sense of culture, tradition, and community within the school, students feel a sense of pride, ownership, and perform better academically. “…efforts to change schools have been most productive and most enduring when directed toward influencing the entire school culture via a strategy involving collaborative planning, shared decision making, and collegial work in an atmosphere friendly to experimentation and evaluation” (Owens, 2001). Many times school leaders start off the school year with a strong message and commitment to ensure that the programs and support networks they have in place will be impactful in building the school culture. However, with the grind of the school year and the day to day responsibilities, it is easy for these culture building initiatives to start to diminish over time.
In order to keep the spirit alive at East Grand Rapids High School, we have implemented the Kabookie Spirit Week into the beginning of the second semester. In January of 2002, East Grand Rapids lost Jimmy Gerken, one of the community’s most beloved icons. Jimmy was a custodian at East who was born developmentally disabled. Jimmy was a friend to everyone and involved in many co-curricular activities. Students, staff, parents, everyone knew, respected, and loved Jimmy. He lived his life with a set of core values that still resonate in the hallways of EGRHS today.
Ever since Jimmy’s death in 2002, East has been committed to taking a week at the beginning of second semester to honor Jimmy, who was also known as Kabookie. This week has evolved over the years depending on the needs of our students and staff. The aim of the week is to honor Jimmy and to re-energize our students and reinforce our core values. Over the past couple of years Kabookie Week, as we call it, has focused on challenging our students to change the culture of our school, to treat each other with a greater level of respect and understanding, and to refocus on our shared goals. Each year Kabookie Week takes on a different look and feel depending on what our students deem as important for that particular school year. Though the activities of the week may change slightly from year to year, the message of Kabookie Week remains the same; to respect one another and to build a positive culture, influencing others in an encouraging way. Past activities have included: winter clothing drives, kindness word wall, pay it forward projects, Kabookie cards, Kabookie assemblies, a school blood drive, a winter dance, spirit dress-up days, and various fund-raisers to help support some of our local organizations. The objective is to involve the student body in activities where they can give of themselves in order to better the school and the community.
This year’s Kabookie Week will incorporate several activities from past years in addition to focusing Kabookie Week around our yearlong” be nice.” campaign. The “be nice.” campaign is a simple yet powerful message encouraging students to treat one another with respect and dignity. The “be nice.” message directly ties into the core values of both our school and Jimmy. Additionally, this year’s version of Kabookie Week will offer several opportunities for our students to extend their learning experience outside of EGR by getting involved in our community.
In my time at East, I have found this week to be a wonderful reboot to our school year. Students are engaged in a message and theme that they can be a part of and believe in. As a result Kabookie Week has become part of our culture and one of our most cherished traditions. The placement of this week in second semester and the connection to a wonderful person allows the administration at East to reinforce some of our most important values and beliefs, to reengage our students, and to start second semester off on a positive note. Building community around this week has proven to be an effective use of time and energy and something that our school looks forward to each year. Kabookie Week works at East and something similar will work at your school. Keep the momentum alive.
“That’s okay I’ll still be your friend.”
Owens, R. G. (2001). Organizational behavior in education. (7th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Perterson, K. D. & Deal, T. E. (1998, September). How leaders influence the culture of schools. Educational Leadership, 56(1), 28-30.