Dr. James Comer is quoted as saying, "No significant learning occurs without significant relationship." It has been shown in research that student-teacher relationships can be a powerful learning tool.

The Pine River-Backus School District is taking this seriously and working diligently to create a culture where every student is valued, cared for and has a person they are connected with in this school.

Our efforts through REACH, PBIS, STRIVE and the goals that each school and classroom puts into place are working toward our goal of every student having an adult connection in our buildings. This can be a paraprofessional, cook, bus driver, custodian, coach, secretary, administrator, teacher - really, just anyone who works here.

Finding the spark, interest and passion of each student is key to this connection.

We started the Tiger Den - a food pantry in our school in partnership with the Pine River Food Shelf. Taking care of students' physical and mental health is vital if we want to see significant learning.

I see staff members spend money out of their own pockets to provide for kids. I see them take time to talk about life and laugh with kids. I know a couple staff members who always just happen to have a ton of extra food with them. I get it; I know what they are doing. They are breaking down barriers and building relationships in which learning can happen. They are building trust with kids who will allow them to stretch their brains in a way they would not trust just any adult to stretch it.

We are fortunate to have people like this.

Though our district is home to many kids who have strong, supportive families and friends, we also have many kids who are hurting or are greatly at risk. Our staff understands they will have to earn the right to hear their story. They are not going to magically open up to them.

It takes time, love and understanding to build these bonds. We do some crazy things along the way to build those connections. Pizza parties for students of the month, kissing alpacas for reaching reading goals, getting pie in the face and a multitude of other ideas that are done so we can connect and ultimately teach.

I'm glad I've got a family of educators in my district who, like me, don't know they "can't do it," are crazy enough to try and usually succeed!