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Snowdon Elementary's 'Be the One'

When Shawna Fraser was first hired as the principal of Snowdon Elementary over a decade ago, she was ready to make a positive impact on her staff, her students, and the entire school community. It began with the staff working collectively at the start of each school year to create a guiding theme to help foster community and inclusivity. About five years ago, Fraser thought of the idea of Be the One.

“The theme was centered and focused around everyone, creating a sense of connection for every student,” Fraser said. It took lots of work, she continued, but the staff loved it. Soon after it was introduced, they all agreed: Be the One needed to be their theme moving forward.

What is Be the One? It’s an idea Fraser crafted that morphed into a practice to help facilitate connections between staff and students that may not otherwise naturally arise. For example, students most often form a natural connection with their teacher given that they interact with them every day, but Be the One pairs a student with a staff member outside of their classroom, such as an administrator, a teacher from another grade level, or a paraeducator from a different classroom.

“If [we] never did anything like this, a child might know their one teacher over the course of six years, plus our three specialists, but there is potential for some kids to never really ever connect with anybody else if you’re not intentionally designing that,” Fraser said.

“I’ve noticed just a general ripple effect that it has,” Assistant Principal Katie Scott said. “It’s not just the activity; it’s the whole idea of getting to know students and prioritizing their sense of belonging.”

The practice is based on intentionally designed opportunities to connect staff and students outside of the classroom setting. These opportunities take the form of activities that they can complete together, such as talking about their favorite things, their hobbies, or watching things grow—a particular favorite of Fraser’s—that provides a packet of flower seeds to each student.

Among students, the consistent and resounding feelings about Be the One include respect, safe spaces, and inclusivity. The practice not only offers students a way to cultivate a secure connection with a trusted adult, but it has helped several Snowdon students feel seen, heard, safe, and comfortable in their school.

“It feels nice having someone know you better,” fourth-grader McKinley Webley said. “It’s nice to see a familiar face.”

“I like it a lot,” fifth-grader Mia Ellis said. “I know what it’s like to not have it. When we lived in Seattle—Bremerton—and I was going to school, I didn’t have anyone to talk to…besides my mom. And she wasn’t there with me all the time because she was working. Now that I’m here, I can talk about my problems.”

“It feels nice having somebody here that just knows stuff about me,” added fifth-grader Teagan Kennedy.

Be the One spans the entirety of a student’s time at Snowdon, and the goal is for each student to be paired with the same staff member for the duration of the program. Students in fourth and fifth grade are in their fourth year of the program, and they have been able to forge a strong relationship with their paired adult.

“You get to build a relationship with them,” Ellis said. “I’ve been here for four years, so I’ve had the same person for Be the One.”

“It makes me feel more likely to come and talk to my person,” added third-grader Christian Ciais. [I think Snowdon does this] so we can get to know them better, and love them.”

Be the One includes an activity every two months throughout the school year for staff and students to work on together. The task of choosing the activity rotates to different staff members, as well as the task of ordering a small prize for every student who completes the activity. Fraser has found that participation among students is consistent, especially with the small prize students receive following completion.

 “My favorite part is when you come in and get a prize,” Ciais said. “You get to know your Be the One person better. My person is Ms. Fraser, and I’ve had her for four years.”

In addition to facilitating a sense of belonging and community among students and staff, Fraser acknowledged that Be the One has also helped to fight the stigma often associated with the principal’s office and administrative staff.

“I don’t know how to describe it except you can feel the sense of community with kids,” Fraser said. “I think they understand this is a place to come sometimes to problem solve, sometimes to celebrate, and sometimes just to share something. It’s not just a place you get sent if you’re in trouble or hurt.”

“When we started, we had the fifth graders, and I told one of them, ‘Welcome to my office, you’ve never been here before.’” Scott added. “And I said, ‘You’re always welcome to come back if you have questions or need something or if you have a good joke. I love good jokes!’

A few weeks later, one of them stopped me in the hallway and said, ‘I have a good joke for you. What do you call a cow with no legs? Ground beef.’ It was just so funny to have a small exchange with that student. She would have never known [otherwise] that I love jokes. That ripple effect of creating belonging. Just seeing students is really important because every student, every grown-up, everybody wants to be seen and heard and valued and feel like they’re important.”

Both Fraser and Scott noted that they have seen other staff members touching base personally with kids outside of the classroom setting.

“It’s helped the staff [feel] that they are also valued,” said Scott. “Sometimes in schools, it’s the teachers and the non-teachers. It also helps the non-teaching staff feel like they are important; we need them to also need the kids.”

Be the One is here to stay at Snowdon, and the inclusive community it is creating becomes stronger every year.

“I think we do [Be the One] because they want us to think we belong here,” Webley said.