Be the change: Fairview High focusing on character, academics, life preparedness

Reminders to “Be the change” can be found throughout Fairview High School. Principal Dr. Chris Gambrill said that’s the message the school wants its students to hear this year. (Maggie Darnell for The Cullman Tribune)

FAIRVIEW, Ala. – A positive environment can have a dramatic impact on mood and attitude, helping students focus more directly on their hopes, dreams and goals. That’s what Fairview High School Principal Dr. Chris Gambrill and his faculty and staff believe, and it’s been their aim this school year.

The school has been zeroing in on three primary goals: character development, more academic success and life preparedness. As visual reminders to the student body, all around the school are positive buzz words with the constant message, “Be the change.”

“Every school is doing something a little different, but when we went through Blue Ribbon (assessment) and got our (state) report card back, we just started focusing on what we thought, not that we weren’t doing what we thought what was best for the kids, but we had to just identify certain areas,” said Gambrill. “Everything that we do focuses on those areas now. Not everyone is going to college, but most everybody is going to be a mom or a dad- they’re already a son or a daughter. What I think, and this is what I think education is headed to in so many ways, is that we have to put out good people with strong character and strong work ethic. If they go to college, that’s great. If they don’t go to college, that’s great. We just want them to be really good, strong people.”

Gambrill said at Fairview, they’ve been focusing on the positive and celebrating successes.

“We try to celebrate any time we get something with one of our students that’s very positive; we just celebrate it,” he said. “There could be a student or several that have been celebrated that maybe in the past they didn’t get that positive recognition, and they should’ve.”

The principal stressed how important it is to prepare students for the real world.

“What our plan (beginning last fall) was is as the students start in the ninth grade, they start building their portfolios with everything they do. They put it in a portfolio so when they get to their senior year, then we can do everything that we need to get them prepared if they want to go to college or join the workforce. We help and make sure everything is prepared. Sadly, our seniors get one of year of it,” Gambrill said. “We’ve been doing things like preparing them or teaching them about voting. I was just in one class where they are learning about income tax- anything we can do to help them get prepared and aim them for their next step in life.”

Another focus is character development.

“For our ninth grade, for example, we have the journey curriculum and we’ve really focused on our ninth grade this year- they’re the future- so if we can start instilling those values now, the likelihood of us losing them decreases tremendously,” said Gambrill. “We have a freshmen seminar class where I’d 98% of our freshmen go to this class. It can be something as simple as watching videos that teach aspects of character. Mainly, you just get these kids to start thinking about character traits or positive things, because some of them don’t realize they’re doing really good things. You try to bring up that they’re doing really good things.”

Be the change

“We’ve taken on ‘Be the change’ as our focus this year,” said the principal. “Our teachers should be hammering that in everything that we do, everything that they should do, especially with our government class right now with the elections going on right now. If you want to change it, you have to change it. You be the one to start the change; don’t wait for someone else. That’s in every class that we’re doing, so hopefully that just starts it within our kids, and I’m not backing off with ‘Be the change!’”

Support system

Gambrill said a mentoring program is in place to further support students.

“For lack of a better term, we have a mentoring program with our kids,” he said. “For example, for our ninth-grade class, we have a mailbox in every ninth-grade classroom where they can put in something pointing to that maybe they need some help or someone to talk to, or just recognize the positive. We also use our older kids reaching out to this group to say, ‘Hey, I’ve been there; I know what it’s like to go through that,’ because we’ll have kids that come in here- I can’t relate with them about what it’s like to come from a broken home, I can’t have that conversation- but I can have kids that can have that conversation, that we know that can give advice. And mostly, they just want someone to listen. They don’t want you to tell them what to do, they just want you to listen. Having these avenues, our teachers can do a phenomenal job before school, after school, meeting with kids not just academically. If I have kids that need help, I have teachers that will bend over backwards to help these kids.”

Academically, the school continues to build on the #ACTLikeaChampion campaign that kicked into gear prior to its dramatic jump in letter grades on the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE)’s report card from a 68 in 2017 to an 88 in late 2018. After the 2017 report card, the school went through its Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence assessment. The latest data shows the school’s score has now jumped to a 91.

Gambrill said in an interview with The Tribune in 2019, “We had to change everything. (Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Board Member) Mike) Hall said, ‘The second I walk into your school, I have no idea what you’re about, but the second I walk in, I should know that.’ So now, the first thing you see when you walk in, we set the standard. We are all about standard-based instruction in everything that we do. If you go into any room, there are standards all over the boards. That’s what we do standard-based instruction ACT.”

The ACT is a standardized test used by colleges to measure high school achievement and readiness for college-level academics.

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Maggie Darnell