Swanton Middle School to Graduate First Full-Term Swanton Seven Class in 2022

Starting the first week in January, the eighth-grade class at Swanton Middle School, (SMS) will begin their last several months at SMS before leaving and continuing their educational journey in high school.  This group of students will have the honor of being the first class to complete all four years of the Swanton Seven Initiative (SSI) program.

The Swanton Seven Initiative is a program first introduced and implemented into the curriculum of the SMS by Principal Matt Smith in 2018.  The program adopts the philosophy of the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia and focuses on building soft skills in students, placing strong emphasis on manners, discipline, respect, and professional behavior.  Skills that will serve the students well for a lifetime.

To help sell the program to the faculty and, more importantly, to the students, the program’s structure was modeled after the Harry Potter house system with each house (Dignitas, Obduro, Gratus, Sapentia) comprised of a relatively even mix of all four SMS grades, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth.  “It was kind of a leap of faith in that first year.  Nobody really knew how it was going to be perceived or if the kids would buy into it or even the staff for that matter.  So, it was kind of like ‘Hey, let’s give this a shot.  I think it really could work.’  And the first year was better than we could have imagined.  It seemed like everything fell into place,” said Mr. Smith.

“In year two we thought ‘What could we do better?’  We added a few things.  We added a couple of events.  We added the Amazing Shake (a competition where students could display their newfound soft skills) that second year which was a big hit.”

The program was so successful in just its second year that the Ohio Middle Level Association (OMLA) selected, for its two most prestigious annual awards, Swanton Middle School as the 2020 Team of the Year and SMS Principal Matt Smith as the 2020 Educator of the Year. 

Unfortunately, like the rest of the world, SMS was forced to deal with the COVID-19 Pandemic in year three and the program had to scale way back to keep the students safe.  This year the program is making a slow comeback to “normalcy” and was able to hold the Amazing Shake again.

Asked to describe some of the impact the SSI program has had, Mr. Smith said, “It’s difficult to quantify but it’s certainly easy to tell there is a different feel in the culture.  When people arrive, they say they have a feeling of welcomeness and the kids’ behavior and expectation, they have risen in the past couple of years.  That’s what we wanted to do.  That’s what we set out to do and we’re happy about that.”

Despite the setback the SSI had to endure because of the pandemic, the one feeling that was not diminished by it was the enthusiasm of the students for the program.  In fact, for these eighth graders, it has grown since day one when they were all ushered into the gymnasium with no forewarning of what was to come.

“We didn’t know what was going on,” said student Hailey Frosch.  “We didn’t know what to expect but we knew it was going to be fun.”  Adding to the excitement of that introduction and making it more memorable was a fog machine which inadvertently set off the fire alarm multiple times.

As much fun as the program has been for the students and for as many of the new life-long skills they have learned in the three plus years, there have been several incredible and very positive by-products of the SSI that was passionately shared by a group of eighth graders, some from each house, during a recent interview.

One is the long-established pecking order found in all schools has taken a major hit at SMS.  “With the Swanton Seven and the House System, I’ve got friends in younger grades that I never would have had.  They’re more like siblings to me because I’ve never had a little sister or little brother.  So, they’re like my little siblings.  I watch over them,” said Carli LaGrange. 

These students realize they have become role models for the lower grades and they take that role very seriously.  They all agreed that each House was like its own family, like its own “wolfpack.”  And like a wolfpack, the older and more mature wolves teach and take care of the younger and less experienced wolves.  “It’s not like a normal middle school.  Bullying went down.  Tremendously,” said Autumn Collins.

The group also agreed that what they enjoyed the most was the House competitions where Houses are matched against each other in games and other skill-displaying events to score points towards winning the House of the Year trophy.  “I feel like the House competitions have brought us together.  Not as a House but as a school in general,” said Hailey.

Other great SSI by-products mentioned were the development of stronger student-teacher relationships and the bonding experience with the fifth graders and older incoming students during the House Reveal event. 

Graduating from SMS and leaving the SSI program will be bitter sweet for many of these students.  Because it has proven to be such a wonderful experience, they expressed hope that a similar program will be started at Swanton High School.  Either way, next year all four of the high school grades will be filled with students that have been through the Swanton Seven experience.

Pictured: (Back L to R) Mylee Rochelle, Brody Bergman, Gabbie Alexander, Brody Voight. (Front L to R) Hailey Frosch, Carli LaGrange, Autumn Collins

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