Fights were so common at Evergreen Middle School that students avoided some of them and formed pacts to help each other. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Fights were so common at Evergreen Middle School that students avoided some of them and formed pacts to help each other. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

ICYMI: Student violence trends down at Evergreen Middle School

Last year, Evergreen saw the most fights, by far, in the district’s middle schools. Now things are quieter. Parents credit staff and new policies.

EVERETT — Last year, the violence at Evergreen Middle School seemed inescapable.

The school recorded at least 168 violent incidents in one school year. Worried for their children’s safety, parents pleaded with district officials to step in — while some students avoided certain hallways and formed pacts to help each other if they got beat up.

Halfway through another year, however, things have been relatively quiet, Evergreen mom Aleas Aeschleman said earlier this month.

Aeschleman was one of many concerned parents last year advocating for Everett Public Schools to change classroom culture, as the district’s middle schools experienced an uptick in violence. The focus came as a former Evergreen family filed a $20 million damage claim against the district toward the end of the school year.

“I feel like it has been better,” Aeschleman said, while drinking tea in her kitchen. “I think that whole thing with the lawsuit really forced the district’s hand into paying attention.”

Evergreen made changes last September: Staff has enforced rules like a zero-tolerance cell phone policy, increased campus supervision and built stronger relationships with students, Principal Sarah Idle said.

“There’s a real shift in our school’s culture this year,” Evergreen Middle School Principal Sarah Idle says. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“There’s a real shift in our school’s culture this year,” Evergreen Middle School Principal Sarah Idle says. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

From September to May 2023, Evergreen had the most recorded fights of all district middle schools, a dozen of which resulted in serious injury. Fights broke out at least once or twice a day, at lunch, recess or between classes, parents said. Even after the bell rang, fight videos would go viral among the student body.

North Middle School had the second-highest amount of fights among Everett middle schools at 106.

Parents said the aggression appeared to be rooted in social media, short-staffing and students adjusting to the return of in-person learning following the COVID pandemic.

‘Whole other level’

Last year, Aeschleman’s daughter worried for own safety as those in her social circle routinely were involved in fights or bullying.

Now in eighth grade, physical violence isn’t much of a concern for her. The verbal abuse her daughter experiences from her peers, however, is on a “whole other level” compared to what Aeschleman knew at the same age, the Evergreen mom said.

“I think that kids are still not being super nice to each other, but they’re not physically attacking each other,” Aeschleman said. “I think that the school culture is really trying to change.”

Idle said the school has made efforts this year to establish core values and group identity among students.

“There’s a real shift in our school’s culture this year,” Idle said. “We’ve really focused on student sense of belonging and improving social and emotional skills like self regulation and conflict resolution. As far as numbers, we’ve seen a reduction.”

The district couldn’t provide updated figures about fights before The Daily Herald’s deadline.

This year, the school hosted a number of grade-level assemblies and award ceremonies celebrating the “positives” among the students, Idle said. The Evergreen principal said these events reframe what it means to be a Timberwolf, the school’s mascot.

If students are caught using phones at school, the devices are stored in a safe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

If students are caught using phones at school, the devices are stored in a safe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Last year, Courtney Harp reached out to the school at least once a week when her daughter got threats from another girl. The Evergreen mom said the school deployed three “in-school restraining orders” this year to keep the two girls away from each other. She grew even more concerned when a video went viral showing the alleged bully attacking another girl.

But this year, Harp has been pleased with the increased enforcement of campus rules this year. Her daughter told her fights have slowed down to about once a week — a “drastic difference” from last year.

“They put in quite a few strict boundaries,” Harp said, “that seemed to have helped slow it down.”

‘Zero Tolerance’

Last year, many fights occurred at lunch and recess. But this year, Idle said, seventh and eight graders have “more flexibility” to switch periods if they have a problem with another student.

Staff has also routinely reminded students of campus rules like the district’s policy on cell phones, where mobile devices are required to be powered off and stowed away for the entire school day.

“We made a concerted effort this year to review the rules and expectations on a very regular basis, and that has been very helpful to keep it in the forefront of students’ minds,” Idle said.

Statewide, cell phones in schools have been a subject of ongoing conversation among parents, educators and lawmakers.

Almost 100 miles southwest of Everett, the Peninsula School District in Gig Harbor made headlines when it adopted a policy this year to block social media access on school grounds and during school-sponsored events.

In Olympia, a bill introduced in the state House would restrict all mobile device use in public schools statewide. The bill states cell phones in schools can have a “multitude of negative effects on student outcomes,” including increased cyberbullying.

“While some educators find that eliminating cell phone possession in class improves attention and leads to better learning environments,” state Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, wrote Thursday, “some educators have found ways to incorporate cell phones as usable technology to enhance their instruction.”

Everett Public Schools is not the only district in the state with violence issues. A bill introduced by state Rep. Sam Low, R-Lake Stevens, would make it possible to charge students or adults fighting in schools with a class C felony. Another local lawmaker, April Berg, D-Mill Creek, expressed concerns it could “increase the potential of having a direct pipeline of our students into the criminal justice arena.”

As for other changes that have helped at Evergreen, Idle said staff have been better supervise areas where students travel the most.

Since last year, the middle school has one Everett police officer on campus most of the week, along with several more rotating campus security guards.

“The relationships have been built where students do feel like they can trust the admin team and our counselors and other members in our building,” Idle said. “There’s a lot more children seeking support and help with the conflict.”

Aeschleman said she knew families who left the district after last year. But she is glad her daughters stuck around.

“I just want her to finish and go to Everett High,” Aeschleman said. “Hopefully it’ll be better.”

Maya Tizon: 425-339-3434; maya.tizon@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @mayatizon.

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