During the early hours of the school day, it’s not a guarantee that he’ll ever get a response from the sleep students standing outside of Skinner Middle School. Nonetheless, it is practically a guarantee that if you see Skinner Middle School Social Worker Joe Waldon before school, he’ll greet you with the warmest of welcomes.
“Good morning scholars!” Waldon shouts as the bell rings and students climb the steps and through the doors of the school’s entrance. “Happy Friday!"
As each student walks past Mr. Waldon, they get much more than a good morning. There are unique greetings for each student.
"Good morning Anthony, let's make it a great day!" Waldon says. "How was that movie, Devin?"
Mr. Waldon, who leads the school’s culture efforts, makes it his goal by the end of the year is to memorize every student’s name. The idea is to help students feel more comfortable about coming to their adult peers -- Mr. Waldon included -- with their social and emotional challenges.
"We know our students have a lot of things going on between the time they leave and the time they come back to school. Sometimes those are really stressful things," Waldon said. "Students love it when we know their names, because we see them as real people. If we want students to talk to us, we have to be open and friendly with them."
Throughout the school year, Mr. Waldon teaches classes around that focus of helping students feel more empowered with the challenges they face during their adolescence. One class helps students understand the social and emotional supports they have in their school building. Another class, called 'Signs of Suicide,' is about recognizing depression in a friend, family member or yourself.
Mr. Waldon also guides students through the big risk factors young people face, such as peer pressure, violence and social risk taking, while encouraging students to say something if they see something.
The program -- which Mr. Waldon says is a calling -- has likely saved lives.
"I think that was made manifest in April when we had our incident here," Mr. Waldon said.
On Friday April 10th 2015, a student came forward with a concern about weapons on campus. Denver Police arrested three students after guns and a device were found at the school.
"It's a collective effort on everybody's part to ensure that our campus is safe," Mr. Waldon said. "By making them more aware of those risk factors, hopefully [students] can protect themselves against those risk factors."