Loyalsock program aims to create positive change for students in and outside of school

A half hour activity break for club meetings at the end of a school day is nothing new, but after classes on Fridays, Loyalsock Township Middle School students and teachers meet in classrooms for clubs that teach students presentation skills, distribute positive messages on social media and teach how to better welcome new students with open arms.

At the beginning of the school year, students are introduced to impacts: interest groups that focus on creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication. Impacts differ from other student organizations, according to the faculty and administrators, because of how they can use those skills outside of the school.

“The whole goal behind this is to take all of the attributes they are learning and experiencing and attach them to a bigger thing then themselves,” Matt Johnson, assistant principal of Loyalsock District Middle School, said. “It’s transferring the skills, and the applications, the human interaction, communication, presentation and all of those humanity components and boiling that down to what are you going to do after you’ve done it?”

There are 23 different impacts ranging from Loyalsock builders, where students work on projects like bird houses and benches for the school’s courtyard, to an advisory board made up of students that help write grants and work with the other impacts to distribute funds.

Students watch a slide show of every impact and have the opportunity to choose the three they are most interested in. The school then organizes the students based on their interests.

“It gives kids not just the opportunity and the time to do these, but it’s something they want to do, their driving it not us,” Andrew Cook, a social studies teacher at the middle school, said. “I’m not saying you need this skill, you are telling me you want this skill.”

Rebecca Leid, a middle school Spanish teacher, brought the idea of impact to the school when she realized they could benefit from a program that focused on soft skills. In the three years since the school adopted the idea, impacts have changed from short activities done during a portion of the year to thirty minute programs held every Friday throughout the entire school year.

“Let’s break down all the traditional schooling and there’s no grades,” Leid said. “Let’s try to teach these kids some soft skills that they might not learn 100 percent in a classroom setting. Let’s show them that we can be real people and get to know them in a mentoring process.”

Leid’s hope for the program is that it will continue to break down grade barriers and help middle schoolers feel like they are a part of a group, while also giving the students the reigns on the impacts and allowing the teachers to guide rather then lead.

“It’s a family approach. They may not have the eighth grade teachers for another two years but at least they are building that relationship,” Leid said. “You aren’t just there for impact days. Take care of each other.”