The goal of Batesville Community School Corp.’s Choices 2.0 is “empowering students to be safe, healthy and happy,” according to the program’s new logo, School Resource Officer Mike Benjamin told trustees at the Aug. 19 meeting.

It focuses on the overall social and emotional wellness of students and aims to create a culture of safety, respect, trust and social and emotional support.

“This is a program I’ve been working on ... for the past six to eight months,” he reported.

When Benjamin was hired about a year ago, superintendent Paul Ketcham decided to place the responsibility for the Choices Program under the two school resource officers after program director Cindy Blessing resigned. Blessing is still serving BCSC as a trustee.

He explained she managed “a great program” that educated students about drugs, alcohol and tobacco and offered alternative activities. Benjamin and former SRO David Abel were tasked with “how can we expand this program to cover issues students are dealing with? We wanted to rebrand and restructure this program.”

Now it is considered part of the district’s safe schools initiative. BCSC officials also have invested in safety by adding two full-time resource officers, upgrading building entrances to secure buildings, adding and improving camera systems, and adding communication technology for crisis situations (CrisisGo).

“This is what a successful program looks like to us,” the officer said, flipping to the next PowerPoint slide, which read, “Students are empowered to make good choices, feel safe in school, empowered to share concerns with adults, feel connected to their school and classmates, know and understand how to seek social and emotional support when needed, and interact with school resource officers in a positive manner helping to build rapport, in return opening critical lines of communication when needed.”

In order to restructure the program, “we started looking at our internal ... and external resources,” identified social and emotional programs already in place, identified needs and collaborated on and facilitated desired programs.

The Choices 2.0 internal committee consists of SROs, counselors, the director of health services and director of instructional technology. “We met probably four times last year. This year we’re actually rolling it out into Choices 2.0 ... we look to meet on a regular basis.”

The group’s primary focus? “If we have a new issue that’s affecting our student population, such as vaping in the last year, the committee will come together with community partnerships to create a plan of action.”

External resources include the Coalition for a Drug-Free Batesville, Margaret Mary Health, Safe Passage and others.

So that youth can have a voice, Choices 2.0 student groups have formed at three schools. The officer is encouraging participation among all students, who are welcome to attend Choices meetings.

Batesville Intermediate School has a new leadership program for fifth-graders. Benjamin leads Guys in Ties and counselor Tricia Stephens oversees Girls in Pearls. Students who could benefit from leadership skills were selected.

Students who took part in that program last year wanted to carry it on at Batesville Middle School, so it is being implemented for sixth-graders. According to the officer, “I’m really excited about that program. I think it’s been very beneficial.”

In addition, a Choices Student Group meets during the BMS Advisory period. At one meeting, 95 showed up. Three to five students at each grade level will be chosen for the student leadership group, which will plan activities.

Blessing asked, “How are those students selected?” Benjamin answered, “We’re going to have an application process.”

The Batesville High School Choices Student Group met for the first time Aug. 20 after 39 students expressed interest.

Now Benjamin is working to finalize the BHS Leadership Team, which will drive activities. “We will do a lot of the same things we’ve done in the past,” such as a movie night, monthly awareness themes, lunchtime giveaways, theme-based games at recess and lunchtime. Students also plan to participate in parades and host a football tailgating event. “They determine what to do. I will support their efforts.” All events must be approved by building administrators.

The groups’ motto is similar to the logo: “Students empowering students to be safe, healthy and happy.”

He displayed a long list of issues to be tackled that came from meetings with students last year. “These are the topics they came up with on their own – very, very relevant with what our students are seeing and dealing with on a regular basis”:

  • Social – bullying, dating violence, peer pressure, conflict resolution
  • Mental and emotional health – depression, anxiety, stress, grief/loss, self-awareness, confidence
  • Technology – online safety, cyberbullying, social media, sexting, texting and driving
  • Substance abuse – drugs, alcohol, tobacco, vaping
  • General safety – fire safety, gun safety, bus safety
  • Character – leadership, caring, cooperation, courage, fairness, honesty, respect, responsibility, self-discipline

Partnering with individuals, organizations and businesses will continue. He pointed out, “If anyone is interested in providing a program for our students and it fits our mission and vision, we may be interested in collaborating to support the cause.”

Choices and the Coalition for a Drug-Free Batesville are partnering on a fresh Lunch on Us initiative. He announced, “We are going to cover costs for any law enforcement officer to have lunch with students at all schools.” The effort will add police visibility and build rapport between officers and students.

Board President Jeremy Raver wondered how Choices 2.0 is funded. Benjamin explained that Blessing’s prior salary became the program’s budget. “We also do seek grant funding.”

In the future, he hopes to establish a new website and add a page to the BCSC website that contains subject matter and resources information.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-717-3113.