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Help boxes lead to ‘climate change’ at Coeburn Middle

mike Still • Feb 17, 2019 at 2:11 PM

COEBURN — A metal box on the wall outside Coeburn Middle School’s main office is building stronger relationships between students and school staff.

Principal Deidre Church and School Resource Officer Lindsie Stacy agree that the appropriately labeled black “help box” — one of three in different areas of the school — has helped show students that the school’s adult staff are there to do more than give homework assignments and grade papers.

The boxes give students a way to tell teachers and counselors through confidential notes when they are having problems with things like bullying or if they are worried about a school friend who might be having problems. Stacy, who joined the Coeburn Middle staff this year, had already found out about the help box concept while looking on Pinterest. The first such box had been installed at Coeburn Middle in August.

“I think the biggest challenge was trying to figure how to build that rapport with students,” Assistant Principal Matt Dysart said. “The help box led to more face-to-face communication with students.”

“It was called a bully box, but we felt that help box sounded better,” Church said. 

Lowe’s hardware in Wise donated that first box, which was placed in the fifth-grade area of the school.

“We explained to students what it was for,” Church said, adding that it started getting a workout from students wanting to share their concerns while still being unsure about how to approach staff about them.

“It did really well for a start,” Stacy said. 

The majority of the notes were coming from fifth-graders because of the box’s location, though.

Seeing how students were using the box to tell staff about their own problems and their worries about friends who were going through tough times, Church and her staff decided to expand the concept. Dysart called Lowe’s, and the store supplied two more boxes for other areas of the school. Soon, Lowe’s provided two boxes for each of the county’s primary, middle and high schools.

“We put it on our Facebook page and the word spread,” Dysart said.

Church credited county schools Maintenance Director Gary Lawson with helping get the boxes installed at all Wise County schools. Even Coeburn Middle bookkeeper Christa Holmes got involved by lettering the outside of that school’s boxes.

Church and Stacy said the help boxes have done more than just help deal with bullying. Tips from the boxes led to helping at least three students who were dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, Stacy said. Notes from the boxes at Coeburn and another county school helped investigators find three cases of sexual abuse of students.

“These were founded incidents,” Church said. “Students were feeling comfortable enough to step forward and say, “ ‘This is happening to my best friend.’ ”

“A lot of these kids were in terrible situations,” Stacy said.

“The box has led to a climate change out here,” Church added.

Dysart said he believes the help boxes have done more than just open lines of communication between students and staff.

“Our attendance is good, and our discipline numbers are down, and I think the help boxes have had a lot to do with that.”

Church said the boxes and their flow of notes have kept teachers and counselors busy and engaged with students.

“When you put a box out there, you have to embrace it and check it all the time,” Church said.

“The attitude has been a team effort all around,” Stacy said. “Every single note is investigated. Some of these notes may seem minor, but to a student it means a lot if one of their friends is hurting.”

“At least they’re more comfortable talking to us,” Dysart added.

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