Skip To Main Content

District News

District News

In recent years we have seen a surge in the importance of emotional well-being in society, especially in schools.  Through research, we continue to expand our knowledge of the developmental phases of adolescence and how to better support our students as they encounter complex pressures in their lives.  As middle schoolers, students typically seek to be the manager of their own academic and social growth. “As they are striving to be independent thinkers and achievers, H.C.Crittenden must find a balance to honor each student’s autonomy while providing the support and ‘safety net’ to ensure their emotional wellness,” explains Ms. Kim Lapple, H.C.Crittenden Principal.

Keeping that in mind, HCC has integrated relevant and thoughtful new initiatives to assist in the overall wellness of students.  These initiatives utilize the team approach that drives the work in middle school and they also capitalize on the strong sense of community.

This work began during the 2017-18 school year through a survey conducted in partnership with Stanford University’s Challenge Success program.  “Challenge Success was a critical impetus for our work with wellness,” said Ms. Lapple.   “The data provided to us served as a launching point for our work and a lens into our students’ perspectives about their lives.”  The H.C.Crittenden Wellness Steering Committee, comprised of school stakeholders, analyzed and processed the data to identify areas to support student wellness in their learning community.

Since then, the work has grown tremendously and many programs have been put into effect based on the new learning.

 An immediate result was the implementation of team emotional wellness goals.  Each grade level and discipline team developed a goal that would focus on student wellness.  The special education team supports the goal of helping students build an awareness of their current and future educational programs through a better understanding of “self.”  “Team Wellness goals are one of our secret supports in helping our students,” said Ms. Lapple. “Teachers don’t necessarily formally announce how they are collaborating to ensure students’ wellness, but it is happening every day.  It’s part of our daily conversations as professionals.”

Another purposeful change at HCC was to incorporate a wellness theme.  The school used a conference day to implement ‘student choice’ activities. “Students could select workshops which had a focus on wellness,” said H.C.Crittenden Assistant Principal, Angelo Ancona.  “The workshops allowed students to explore their talents with faculty and guests.” They were designed to let students be uninhibited in a non-competitive environment and included groups such as, Ambidextrous Art in which students drew with both hands at the same time, creating symmetrical designs, Inside the Music, Inside Yourself, in which students channeled their emotions into art, and Yoga which challenged students to try different poses and games that promote physical fitness, strength, flexibility, and balance.

This past January, H.C. Crittenden continued the important work of encouraging kindness in its community.  This was the seventh year of #Kindness, created and inspired by the Guidance Department. “#Kindness is a week-long celebration that challenges the HCC student body to grow together based on respect and kindness towards one another,” said Heather Graham, H.C. Crittenden GuidanceCounselor.  “The dedicated full week began with a keynote speaker, Mr. John Halligan who lost his son to suicide in 2013.  His presentation, "Ryan's Story" covered how to deal with bullying, cyberbullying and teen depression. He spoke about how to reach out for help when needed and the significance of being kind to others.”  Another kindness related event included "Be the I in KIND" photo board, where students could take a positive picture to post on social media.

Finally, a new initiative for this school year is a student-based year-long project called Project Me, where self-reflection is paramount.  Project Me has strong connections to Challenge Success and wellness. “It was driven by the idea that we want our students to value self-growth over grades earned,”  said Ms. Lapple. “Student choice is important in determining their personal goals to support active learning.”  

This year-long reflection will lead to a presentation and celebration at the end of their journey. As a result, students will be more present in their own learning, make their own decisions and then reflect upon those decisions.

By definition, wellness is an active process of striving towards a healthy and fulfilling life.  Based on the collaborative efforts between Challenge Success and HCC, steps are continuously being taken to help students feel comfortable and confident in and out of the classroom while promoting and maintaining wellness.

Project ME at HCC


“Project ME grew out of the idea that we wanted to celebrate the accomplishments and growth of all students at the end of the school year,” said H.C. Crittenden Middle School Principal, Ms. Kim Lapple.  “We were striving to acknowledge students’ individual growth in addition to the traditional achievement-based model.”

This plan was centered on the collaboration with Challenge Success, an organization that works to help foster learners who are healthy, motivated, and better prepared for adult life.  Ms. Lapple and her staff knew they aspired to integrate the concept of ‘growth over grades’ and honor all students.  

The year-long search of how to define student success was set in motion.  There were many discussions with the HCC faculty who looked at various prototypes before determining the most beneficial one for their student community.  Project ME  transpired after thoughtful research and consideration from stakeholders.  The project’s goal is to build and foster a community where personal growth and self-reflection are foundational values.

“Project ME benefited from a vision that came from professional development that some of our HCC teachers were engaged in,” said Ms. Lapple.  “Members of our faculty participated in a year-long workshop experience that centered on the work learned at High Tech High (HTH).  The HTH concept began in a single high school in California and has grown to include a network of schools where students pursue their passions through project-based learning.”  

As teachers were developing their own units, they were inspired by the impact of HTH and wanted their students to have an empowering middle school experience.  Their vision propelled Project ME to be an innovative way to culminate the year.  They felt the components of this project would go hand in hand with their mission while complimenting the District initiative of emotional wellness.

Project ME focuses on the idea of becoming an active learner.  The goal is to allow students to explore what active learning means to them. As a result, students will be more present in their own learning, make their own decisions and then reflect upon their decisions. 

The process will begin with each student identifying a behavior, disposition or mindset that they feel is necessary to become a more active learner.  To aid in this work, there will be monthly meetings where students will be placed in squads, consisting of small student groups of mixed grade levels, and a faculty facilitator who will share and support each other through their work.

“Last year, in our Voice Circles, students expressed a desire for more opportunities to interact with other grades.  Project ME honors this feedback, said ” Mr. Angelo Ancona, H.C.Crittenden Middle School’s Assistant Principal.

Students will track their personal progress throughout the year and document their advancements in a digital portfolio.   They will also collect and retain artifacts as evidence during the process.  “At the end of the year, Project ME will be shared through the student’s digital portfolio and the ‘Presentation of Learning’ about their growth through time,” Ms. Lapple said.  Students will present to their squad and other audience members which helps to build confidence and strong communication skills.

“Students will reflect on their successes and struggles and celebrate their hard work and accomplishments.  They will also be asked to consider other ways they can grow into the next school year,” said Ms. Lapple. Through the exploration of Project ME, HCC students will have a better understanding of themselves both personally and academically.  This is a very positive way to end the school year.

Grade 8 Moves Up

The HCC Moving Up Ceremony brought excitement to students and their families on June 24th, 2019.  Students received their diplomas and kind words from H.C. Crittenden Principal, Ms. Kim Lapple.

“As a grade, you’ve excelled both as individuals and as a collective group,” said Ms. Lapple.  “This class has become such a positive force.” She then proudly handed the grade over to Mr. Christopher Walsh, Principal of Byram Hills High School.

“Your class will be the 55th in our school’s history and I look forward to seeing the distinct identity that you create,” said Mr. Walsh. 

"September 3rd is in 71 days and we can’t wait to have you all at the high school. Congratulations to the class of 2023.”

H. C. Crittenden eighth graders shine on stage during their Moving Up Ceremony.

HCC Students and Faculty Open Up in Student Voice Circles Workshops Aimed at Supporting a Healthy School Environment

The gym at H.C. Crittenden Middle School stood nearly silent, the quiet broken by the sounds of footsteps moving back and forth across the floor, sneakers squeaking along the way.

Students, faculty and staff stood in two lines facing each other, and were invited to take three steps forward each time a statement read aloud was true for them. With nearly three dozen statements that touched on race, ancestry, family makeup and feelings, participants were in steady motion, stepping out when they felt comfortable recognizing a part of their identity without having to say a word.

“Please step forward if you believe your teachers and principal see you as a respectful person,” facilitator Trent Day Hall read aloud. Participants were also invited to step forward if they or anyone they knew had ever been teased, made fun of or called a bad name.

Some statements drew just a few participants, others attracted many, including the penultimate statement in one session, which touched on a priority at Crittenden: “Please step forward if you ever wished that people would just be more kind at school.”

The activity, called an inclusion line, was part of the Student Voice Circles workshop that all middle schoolers attended in October in groups of 70.

Broken into smaller groups that were seated around a circle, the students and adults took turns sharing parts of their identity as they got to know each other better. They participated in the inclusion line and returned to their circles to reflect on the experience. They concluded the 2 ó-hour workshop by writing down recommendations and commitments for improving the school.

The goal, Mr. Hall explained, was for participants to get to know each other in a fundamental way, to humanize each other, and ultimately, to work together to discover ways of improving the school environment. He encouraged students to stretch themselves, to keep an open mind and to take a risk, noting that growth was possible even in a short amount of time.

The social-emotional learning workshop was aimed at “teaching people about themselves so they can then understand the complexities of another person,” Mr. Hall explained.

“If everyone in the school is honoring every other person, then there’s no reason why people should ever find themselves being bullied or made fun of because we all understand the inherent dignity in everyone,” he said.

Principal Kim Lapple said the Student Voice Circles workshop exceeded expectations for fostering a greater sense of community at HCC.

“It was phenomenal,” she said. “The Voice Circles have far surpassed all that we were hoping for in terms of setting a climate of inclusion and student empowerment. The students, administrators and faculty left feeling invigorated and energized in our work together. It has set us on an incredibly focused path.”

Now that the student body has learned how to share their thoughts through Voice Circles, HCC will continue to use the model.

“We’re going to give students a leadership opportunity to become Voice Circle ambassadors,” Ms. Lapple said. “We will train those students HCC Students and Faculty Open Up in Student Voice Circles and they will be able to identify topics we feel will be helpful to explore with our students.”

Voice Circles will be utilized to promote social interactions within the HCC community and to also learn more about student perspectives about their experiences at H.C. Crittenden. Topics that Ms. Lapple plans to look at through Voice Circles include promoting kindness, and examining when kids feel connected to the school community and when they do not.

“We want to continue this work where students can participate and have their voice heard in the school community in a way that we can hear them, and then figure out the next steps to better our community,” she said.

Several students said the workshop shined a light on the personal, often hidden, experiences of fellow students.

“This has changed me by showing me that I’m not alone when it comes to feeling scared or insecure or alone,” seventh grader Matthew Mackohe said. “It really did open my eyes.”

He learned that he has more in common with some students than he realized, and felt that using Voice Circles at HCC could help bridge the gap between friend groups.

“I think it could help by helping open up people,” he said. “I think it can be good if everyone gives it a chance.”

Another seventh grader, Javier Benerofe, called the workshop productive.

“It opened a lot of people’s eyes to what other people are experiencing, and that in some ways, I’m not alone in this thing and there are other people experiencing the same thing,” he said, adding that he hadn’t known so many students had felt bullied or alone.

The best part was writing the recommendations and commitments, he said, “because I think it’s important for the students to have a say in how their school is run and to be able to really recommend things to their administration to make change for the better.”

Ms. Lapple says she hopes that Voice Circles will help create a school community where students are empowered to be involved and make a difference. And a more engaged 

student body will lead to academic growth.

“In the end, this work will help HCC become more connected and more empowered,” she said. “When students feel their voices matter, they are seven times more likely to be engaged and academically motivated.”

HCC is grateful to the Byram Hills Education Foundation for supporting this important workshop.


  1. Trent Day Hall was the facilitator for the Voice Circles workshops that H.C. Crittenden Middle School students, faculty and staff attended in October.


  2. Students and faculty met in small groups during the Voice Circles workshops that took place at H.C. Crittenden in October. In their circles, they shared parts of the identity and reflected on ways to help improve the school culture.


  3. Toward the end of the Voice Circles workshops, participants returned to their circles to write down recommendations and commitments.


  4. Students wrote down their recommendations and commitments.


The Critter

Click here to check out the most recent issue of our school newspaper for the 2017-2018 school year.